She's Still Here

Sarah Palin isn’t going anywhere—and she has a good shot at getting the GOP nomination in 2012.

Could it be? A new dynamic duo on the presidential scene, featuring Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin? During her appearance at a recent Tea Party Express Rally in Boston, Palin told the Boston Herald that the idea "sounds good to me." Romney isn't rejecting the idea, either.

Republicans can only hope that it would be as popular a combination as the father-and-daughter vigilantes, "Big Daddy" and "Hit Girl" in the hot new film Kick-Ass. Palin, you could say, is the "Hit Girl" of American politics. She takes no prisoners. And, like "Hit Girl," she's a cultural phenomenon.

No doubt Palin's critics have been sniping at the revelation that she's pulled in a cool $12 million since July 2009 and that she insists on flying around in a Lear jet to speaking engagements, coupled with at least three hotel rooms, one of which has to be a luxury suite. But this is mere carping and it won't ruffle the feathers of Palin's populist followers. If anything it confirms the wisdom of Palin's decision to resign from her post as governor of Alaska.

Palin is a successful entrepreneur creating her own brand-book, speeches and television show are all part of her arsenal for attacking the Left, which, in turn, loves to attack her. As David Runciman recently pointed out in the London Review of Books, Palin has real moxie. She appears to have suffered something of a mental breakdown early on during the 2008 campaign, but recovered to hold her own against Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate-as Runciman puts it, "I found myself struck with wonder at the inner resolve of someone who can have a nervous breakdown in the middle of a presidential campaign yet still emerge from it as a significant political figure, who barely 12 months later has a large part of the Republican party in her pocket." Now, running for the presidency-or vice presidency-will help cement her popularity among many Americans.

Don't assume that Romney would be on top in a ticket, either. It could well be that Palin, the more charismatic of the two, the one with real punch, heads it. In this scenario, Romney would provide the gravitas that she lacks, reassuring voters that the hothead won't spin out of control.

But the real problem for Palin could be if the economy continues to grow and unemployment decreases. Palin is a radical candidate. But radicalism can only flourish in uncertain times. If President Obama succeeds in righting the economy and the stock market hits new highs, Romney would be a far safer bet than Palin.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that Palin wouldn't capture the nomination. The dislike of Obama has become so intense among the conservative base that the temptation to select Palin may be overwhelming. She is the one candidate who would viscerally take the fight to Obama. She is not a product of Ivy League colleges or the Washington establishment. Instead, she can genuinely campaign as an outsider, contemptuous of the cosseted elites that have attached themselves to Washington. There's another reason she's not going away. David Brooks says, "The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a media psychodrama and nothing more. It gives people on each side an excuse to vent about personality traits they despise, but it has nothing to do with government." But venting about personalities has become a proxy for discussions about government. It's hard to see, at this point, how the two can really be separated. Here, I think, Sam Tanenhaus comes closer to the nub than Brooks. In the New Yorker, Tanenhaus writes,

Palin understands more than anyone how interpenetrated the realms of politics and media have become. Her operating principle seems to be an observation made by Richard Hofstadter in 1954 that "the growth of the mass media of communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment." 

And as Andrew Sullivan notes, it would be foolish to depreciate "the psychological appeal of the beautiful female warrior. Palin is not appealing to the Republican super-ego (in so far as one has survived the last ten years); she is directly, umbilically connected to the Republican id (and some other male organs)."

That connection will not be easily broken. John McCain's true legacy is creating Palin, which is something that Romney or anyone else eyeing the Republican nod in 2012 must confront.

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.