Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mama Grizzly stays home


THE ROMNEY presidential campaign has been gambling in various ways for months: betting they could reject the prevailing political tradition of releasing multiple years of tax refunds; wagering they could win with a relative unknown as Romney’s running mate, a Capitol Hill operator whose claim to legislative fame is a budget that’s wildly unpopular.

But in the runup to the Republican National Convention, less than two weeks away, Team Romney may have made its biggest bet — including Sarah Palin out of a place on the biggest stage in Republican electoral politics.

Either by making things so inhospitable for her that she opted out of attending herself, or by directly refusing to include her in the convention proceedings, Team Romney will not be graced with the appearance of the former Alaska governor and current Tea Party lightning rod when things kick off in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 27. The queen of going rogue is staying home.

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The optics of this diss look cordial enough. Palin issued a statement on Sunday, doing her best to be the good soldier. “This year is a good opportunity for other voices to speak at the convention and I'm excited to hear them," said Palin, in the statement on Gretawire, the blog maintained by Fox News host Greta Van Susteren.

“Everything I said at the 2008 convention about then-candidate Obama still stands today, and in fact the predictions made about the very unqualified and inexperienced community organizer's plans to ‘fundamentally transform’ our country are unfortunately coming true,” Palin said.

In the statement, Palin offered her support for Romney and his just-minted running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, saying that she intended to put her energies into downticket races, in the House and Senate, and doing her thing to galvanize independent voters and the Tea Partisans who still all but worship her — efforts made “so a wise Congress is ready to work with our new president to get our country back on the right path.”

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At first blush, it's all rather magnanimous, a handoff to the younger, underheard voices in the party seeking their place in the sun. But another look at this calm-the-waters gesture suggests a different  scenario. The GOP kingmakers have had more than three years of seeing Palin — mercurial, unpredictable, sometimes even unhinged — performing in the public eye. Weighing the pros and cons, it’s just as possible that the Republican National Committee and Team Romney came to an inescapable conclusion: It’s hard to keep a grizzly bear on a chain for very long.

And it’s a sure thing that Sarah Palin would have slipped that chain/leash/yoke/[your harnessing metaphor noun here] as soon as she took the podium in Tampa. With no control over what Palin would say at the convention, no guarantees that Palin would stick to the coronation script, it’s just as likely that the convention brain trust decided to keep her on the sidelines. Pre-emptive discretion is the better part of damage control.

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IF THAT’S what happened, Team Romney takes the calculated risk of alienating those members of the Republican base that have been the bedrock of Palin’s support since she was tapped to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008. The GOP’s Tea Party wing’s support of Romney has been spongy enough already; that support for Romney won’t get any more solid with Tea Party darling Palin absented from the GOP’s dressage event — especially since her personal backing of Romney appears to be half-hearted at best.

So be it. On Aug. 30, the convention’s final day, Romney can be expected to accept the nomination after an introduction by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. In the lead-up to the main event, other speakers will take the stage, including former Bush #43 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, publicity enthusiast Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (delivering the keynote), New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — even John McCain. Palin? No microphone for you.

But if Palin will be conspicuous by her absence in Tampa, it’s a safe bet she’ll weigh in from her perch at Fox News with a play-by-play of convention events from her rogue perspective ... offered from Alaska, 4,400-plus miles away.

Image credits: Palin: ABC News. GOP convention logo: © 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

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