Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan governor weighing a bid for the presidency in 2012, is keeping her attacks loud and her intentions quiet.
Palin, who claimed that the policies of the Obama administration have put the country on a “road to ruin” in a weekend address celebrating the centennial of former President Ronald Reagan’s birth, will bypass an assembly of the Conservative Political Action Committee this week in Washington. The event has become a proving ground for the Republican Party’s potential candidates for president.
Palin’s moves in the face of will-she or won’t-she questions about the 2012 campaign have captivated Washington, keeping fellow Republicans guessing.
While other possible candidates raise money, hire aides and woo supporters, Palin has made few visits to early primary states. Instead, she focuses on paid speeches, her role as a Fox News contributor, interviews in friendly media forums and Facebook and Twitter postings attacking the Obama administration.
Palin’s strategy has political observers questioning whether the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee is pioneering a new way to conduct a campaign in a political era dominated by social media.
“She understands it’s a new media and political environment, and she’s taken advantage of her greatest asset, which is the ability to command media attention and to raise money,” says Darrell West, an expert in politics and technology at the Brookings Institution. “If you decide to run for president that’s a powerful combination.”
Still, West notes, Palin’s celebrity status has made it tougher for her to “cross that threshold of substance that voters are going to require in any presidential candidate.”
Palin, 46, slammed President Barack Obama’s handling of the uprising in Egypt in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network released yesterday. She likened it to “the 3 a.m. phone call” that Obama’s one-time challenger and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used in a campaign TV ad to question Obama’s readiness for an international crisis.
“It seems that call went right to the answering machine,” Palin said. “We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And we do not have that information yet.”
Palin left the door open to a 2012 presidential bid, saying in the interview that if she ran she would “continue on the same course of not really caring what other people say about me or worrying about the things that they make up, but having that thick skin and a steel spine.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that he didn’t understand Palin’s remarks about Egypt.
“I read that answer several times and I still really don’t know what she said,” he said.
Palin focused on a speech Reagan gave in 1964 on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, in which he discussed the dangers of high taxes and government regulations.
“We face the same choices now as we did then, only now we are in even worse shape,” she said. “We must see where these unsound policies will ultimately end and that’s in decline and defeat.”
Palin was given presidential treatment at the Reagan Ranch center, arriving just before she spoke rather than mingling with 350 attendees dining at banquet tables in the ballroom. After her address, they lined up for official photos with her.
A short video about Reagan played before Palin took the stage, juxtaposing pictures of former president Jimmy Carter with Obama.
Patti Davis and Ron Reagan, two of Reagan’s children, said Palin had little in common with their father.
Palin is not “a serious candidate,” Reagan told the Associated Press. “She’s doing mostly what she does to make money and keep her name in the news,” he said. Davis said her father would be “completely baffled at her fondness for shooting animals.”
Palin’s newest attacks follow a dispute over what critics viewed as her divisive political rhetoric.
Her PAC’s website last fall displayed gun-sight cross-hairs over the districts of several Democratic lawmakers, including Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded Jan. 8 in a shooting spree that killed six people. Palin was criticized for this and for some of her use of violent metaphors in her political speech.
After the shooting, she suggested on her Facebook page that she had been victimized by “blood libel,” an anti-Semitic term used by those who falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children and using their blood to make the unleavened bread served at Passover.
Forty-six percent of voters surveyed said they disapproved of her response to the shooting and only 30 percent approved, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken Jan. 13-16.
Almost three-quarters of investors view Palin unfavorably, according to a quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll of 1,000 investors, traders and analysts conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm, on Jan. 20-24.
Though the general public may have soured on Palin, she maintains strong support among Republican primary voters.
She was the second choice among Republican voters surveyed for a Washington Post-ABC News poll, winning 19 percent of the respondents and trailing former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee by two points. In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted the same week, Palin placed third, four points behind Huckabee and five behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Palin’s confrontational tone, which alienates a broader public, is what energizes the Republican Party’s base, said pollster Neil Newhouse, a partner at Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies.
“For many Republicans, she represents how they feel about the issues,” he said. “She is their voice.”
Since running with Senator John McCain of Arizona on the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential ticket, Palin has become a heroine of the Tea Party movement, a loose-knit coalition of fiscally conservative voters.
She contributed more than $516,000 to Republicans largely backed by Tea Party activists during the midterm election campaign. Palin entered 2011 with $1.3 million in her political action committee’s bank account, Federal Election Commission filings show.
Support for Candidates
Of the 81 candidates whom Palin supported in the Nov. 2 elections, more than 50 won, according to a website operated by her supporters.
“I don’t think Sarah Palin needs to prove her credentials to the conservative crowd,” Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor contemplating a Republican bid for president, told reporters in Chicago on Feb. 4
Still, Republican strategists say that for Palin to mount a successful campaign, she must define a cohesive platform.
“Money is not everything,” said Republican pollster David Winston. “What are the specific set of issues that she’s going to engage to say this is a focal point of why she would run for president?”
Palin last traveled to Iowa on Nov. 27 for a stop on her latest book tour. Before that, she visited in September, giving the keynote address at the Iowa Republican Party’s largest annual fund-raiser.
Iowa Republican activists caution Palin against waiting too long to begin campaigning in Iowa, which tentatively plans to hold its presidential nominating caucuses on Feb. 6, 2012.
“Iowa caucus-goers expect to see candidates here early and often, and they expect the chance to interact with them,” said Matt Strawn, chairman of the state’s Republican Party.
Palin has done little campaign work in New Hampshire, whose primary election will offer the second early party test in 2012, according to New Hampshire-based Republican consultant Dave Carney.
“Some folks are interested in meeting her,” he said “But there doesn’t appear to be any campaign groundwork being laid.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Santa Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org.