(Corrects column published Nov. 11 to fix reference to months left in Palin’s unfinished term in 14th paragraph.)
Like many in the lamestream media, I’m transfixed by Sarah Palin. It’s not that she’s so good at what she’s done; it’s that she’s done it at all.
She missed becoming a heartbeat away from the presidency, gaining worldwide fame and fortune in its stead. Her record on influencing the midterm elections is mixed, yet no one other person had more influence. The Tea Party, initially rudderless, found its leader.
A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey out three days after the election showed Palin with an 82 percent favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters, with 50 percent choosing “very favorable” to describe her. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee also got high marks -- just not as high as Palin.
The GOP establishment, stoic before the midterms, is frantic now about Palin 2012. The only thing blocking an almost- official stop-Palin movement, it seems, is the lack of an alternative the establishment can rally around.
Still, Karl Rove, who took Palin on as she was enabling doomed congressional candidates such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, has more and more company.
The oracle of establishment Republicans, Peggy Noonan, called Palin “ignorant” and “a nincompoop” while relating that Reagan Republicans “quietly flipped their lids” over Palin’s suggestion that, as “an actor,” Reagan wasn’t all that different than she. It was as if Mother Superior was so rattled by bad behavior she resorted to X-rated language.
‘Stock Is Falling’
Mark McKinnon, former media adviser to George W. Bush, added in a television interview that Palin’s “stock is falling” and that while she could win the Republican nomination for president, “there’s no way that she can win a general election.”
And Representative Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican who could become the next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, blamed Palin’s taste in candidates for costing the party its chance to win control of the U.S. Senate.
Palin proved influential in at least six governor’s races and helped Republicans win Senate races in Kentucky (Rand Paul), New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte) and, arguably, Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey didn’t trumpet Palin’s endorsement but benefited from it anyhow. She also held the paint brush that changed the House from blue to red.
But Palin’s role in Nevada, Delaware and Alaska, helping Tea-Party Republicans pull out huge upsets in the primary, only to wither under the scrutiny of the general election, may be her most memorable contribution to Election 2010.
Her Own Backyard
In her own backyard, Alaska, Palin wanted to wallop her old nemesis, Senator Lisa Murkowski, with a candidate so bad he had to concede he lied while working as a local government employee. When counted, Murkowski’s write-in votes are likely to make her the victor and to make Joe Miller, the amazing self-destructing Republican nominee, the best evidence of Palin’s perilous political instincts.
Palin has picked herself up before. In February, 71 percent of Americans found her not qualified to be president -- almost all Democrats, two-thirds of independents and 52 percent of Republicans, according to a Washington Post poll.
Since then, coming out from behind Facebook to help Tea Party candidates has lifted her standing to the point where she’s a force in the 2012 presidential race. The GOP may have created a monster by remaining silent until now, letting the Tea Party become the tail wagging the dog. Palin is to Republicans what Elvis was to Las Vegas.
Even milking her 15 minutes hasn’t hurt her. After shocking the world by quitting as Alaska governor in 2009, 17 months before her term was up, she sucked every bit of benefit out of her improbable vice presidential run in 2008, publishing a book and going out on the speaking circuit, rarely forgoing a big payday even for party events.
Her brand extension now rivals the McDonald’s Corp.’s move into fancy coffee. She’s not just a paid performer on Fox News but, along with her family, plunging into reality television. Her daughter Bristol is on “Dancing With the Stars,” a single mother dressing like Madonna, writhing on the floor as she strips her partner of his shirt, with Mama Grizzly watching.
The rest of the family is in “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” debuting Sunday on TLC, a reality show that invites cameras into her lair -- where, suddenly, she doesn’t mind the little ones suffering in the public glare. Weighing in again, Rove wondered how appearing in a reality show “fits in the American calculus of, ‘That helps me see you in the Oval Office.’”
Rove misses the point: The show fits in perfectly with Palin’s faux-casual approach to 2012 -- she’ll run for president “if there’s nobody else to do it,” or “if nobody else wanted to step up.” Now along with those rehearsed lines she’ll have hours of video of her climbing mountains and kayaking to show how much happier she is with the salmon in Alaska than with politicians in Washington.
As Palin likes to say, “A poor day of fishin’ beats even a great day of work.”
Until she hangs a “Gone Fishin’” sign on her Facebook page, Rove and the rest of the Republican establishment shouldn’t rest easy.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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