Monday, July 6, 2009

What is Palin’s Future Now?

To everyone’s surprise - including many people closest to her - Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) announced Friday that she would soon be resigning.

Immediately - and to no one’s surprise - a firestorm of media speculation started as to why she chose to leave and what it meant for her political future.

A week ago today, our own survey of our readers found that Palin was thought to be the Number One Contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Her Friday announcement certainly seemed to hint at a presidential campaign, but as many have noted, it may have killed any hope she had.

From an article in Politico:

[There have been] brutal reviews from many Republicans, who believe that quitting mid-term in the fashion she did amounts to political suicide.

“There is just no good way to say quitting has made her more qualified to run for higher office,” said veteran GOP pollster Glen Bolger.

What reasons did Palin have to resign?

Palin’s own explanations are anything but clear. She gave a now-famous basketball analogy of knowing when to “pass the ball” to claim it was best for Alaska.

Then in a Facebook response to her critics, she said

“The response in the main stream media has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the “politics of personal destruction”. How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it’s about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make. But every American understands what it takes to make a decision because it’s right for all, including your family.”

What’s more obvious is that by resigning she can make a lot of money off the speaking circuit - enough to support her family for life while giving her enough exposure to build support for a 2012 campaign in the 48 lower states. Furthermore, she’s been giving subtle hints beyond the so-called “higher calling”.

Journalist Geoffrey Dunn (who’s currently writing a book on Palin) wrote for the Huffington Post this weekend:

One of my favorite lies spewed by Palin today in yet another poorly scripted speech was that she campaigned for governor "four years ago...," when she, in fact, ran for governor three years ago and held her position for little more than two-and-half years. It's the little lies she always tells, the twists of truth, the distortions. Four years sounds like nearly a full term; three feels incomplete. So why not just call it four?

What’s less obvious is her declining popularity in Alaska - much of it coming from Republicans.

From Dunn’s article:

She has alienated virtually all the key legislators in her own party -- that's right, Republicans -- and had failed to move any key legislation forward since her return to Alaska from the national campaign trail last November.

In fact, her bizarre appointment for Attorney General, Wayne Anthony Ross, was rejected nearly unanimously by the state legislature -- a first in Alaskan history. Even in respect to energy policy, her supposed bailiwick, she has been categorically ineffective. When I asked those in-the-know what role Palin had played in putting together the recent pipeline deal between TransCanada and Exxon, their response was simple: "None."

…The evangelical right can wallow in denial all they want about Palin being victimized by liberals or Democrats or even George Soros…the fact is that most of the people with really bad things to say about Palin -- from John McCain's staff to conservatives in Alaska -- come from the Republican Party. The charges of a left-wing conspiracy are so ridiculous as to be absolutely absurd.

So what is in store for Palin’s future?

Despite the onslaught of criticism she's receiving for her resignation, only time will tell if it was a good idea or not. It’s been suggested that some of her recent criticism has been the result of a stealth Romney attack in the midst a pre-2012 campaign press battle within the GOP. If this is true it means that some in the Republican Party think that by not running a state it will actually help her presidential ambitions in the long run, and that only early attacks can derail these prospects.

Nevertheless, the resignation announcement was poorly handled. The message she used suggested she did not have the skin to deal with negative media coverage, and that led to accusations that she’s egotistic and childish.

As Maureen Dowd wrote in a critical editorial in the New York Times this weekend:

Sarah wanted everyone to know that she’s not having fun and people are being mean to her and she doesn’t feel like finishing her first term as governor…

… After girlish burbling about how “progressing our state” and serving Alaska “is the greatest honor that I could imagine,” and raving about how much she loves her job, she abruptly announced that she was making the ultimate sacrifice: dumping the state on her lieutenant…

…Naturally, she dragged the troops in, saying that her trip to see wounded soldiers overseas “fortified” her decision to give up because “they don’t give up.”

She refuses to succumb to the “politics of personal destruction.” It’s no fun unless she’s the one aiming those poison darts, as she did when she accused Barack Obama of associating “with terrorists who targeted their own country.”

Sometimes, she explained, if you’re the star, you have to “call an audible and pass the ball” and leave at halftime, “so the team can win” somehow without you.

As is the case for many politicians, it’s not so much what she does, but how she does it that can make or break her future. If she fails to explain herself clearly and carefully (in a way that benefits her) criticism will come naturally. And ever since she was first picked up by John McCain last year she has poorly handled the attention of the national spotlight.

But how could she have handled this situation differently?

First of all, she shouldn’t have caught everyone off-guard. An anonymous leak to the press about rumors of a resignation would have spurred the criticism earlier. Then when she did announce her intention to resign she could have responded directly to her critics without any vague explanations about her reasons for resigning.

She would have a better understanding about what the arguments against her would be going into the announcement, and she could respond with a resounding message about how exactly her decision was best for Alaska - putting her critics (largely) to rest.

But if her current sorts of erratic behavior continue - in which she complains about the media and fails to explain the decisions she makes - her hopes for a 2012 nomination will slowly fade away.

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