A few days have passed since Sarah Palin announced she’s leaving the governorship, more pundits have thrown in their two cents: Mark Steyn seems to think she’s really out of politics for good, while Victor Davis Hanson advances the 2016 theory. I’d like to expand upon my initial reaction with a closer look at each theory, as well as the pros and cons of what she’s done so far.
Theory: Preemptive damage control for a new, major scandal
We can probably dismiss this one without much concern. The FBI has said they have “no investigation into Palin for her activities as governor, as mayor or in any other capacity,” and really—what more can be said that hasn’t already been said about her? I mean, once we’ve crossed the “you didn’t give birth to your own son” threshold…
Theory: She’s leaving politics behind for a permanent return to private life
Steyn floats this theory on the basis that Palin entered public life in a very different, less cutthroat political culture than the one she found at the national level:
In states far from the national spotlight, politics still attracts normal people. You’re a mayor or a state senator or even the governor, but you lead a normal life. The local media are tough on you, but they know you, they live where you live, they’re tough on the real you, not on some caricature cooked up by a malign alliance of late-night comics who’d never heard of you a week earlier and media grandees supposedly on your own side who pronounce you a “cancer.”
Then suddenly you get the call from Washington. You know it’ll mean Secret Service, and speechwriters, and minders vetting your wardrobe. But nobody said it would mean a mainstream network comedy host doing statutory rape gags about your 14-year old daughter. You’ve got a special-needs kid and a son in Iraq and a daughter who’s given you your first grandchild in less than ideal circumstances. That would be enough for most of us. But the special-needs kid and the daughter and most everyone else you love are a national joke, and the PC enforcers are entirely cool with it.
It’s a possibility we certainly can’t dismiss—she’s got a family to care for, and heaven knows she’s been put through hell by the Left—but then how do you account for the fact that her explanation (which, sorry, had a lot of room for improvement) is chock-full of references to taking her fight in new directions and such? If you believe she’s permanently retiring, then you also have to believe she’s misleading a whole bunch of people whom she knows adore her, and will be crushed to see her disappear.
I’ll have to see more before I accept that. Sarah Palin’s planning something. But what?
Theory: She is not interested in the presidency, but believes she can better fight for the country in some other, as-yet unspecified way
Possible, but unless she’s got something very specific in mind, most of the usual non-office routes she could take (book deals, speaking tours, etc.) seem to me a waste of her star power if that’s the extent of her long-term plans. That sort of thing is good for building goodwill and keeping your image out there, but honestly, I don’t know if its audience would include more than a handful of new converts. In other words, they can be means to an end, but if Palin intends them as the end, I’m afraid her efforts will yield less than she hopes. A Senate run? Maybe, but I don’t think an early leave for one Alaska office is exactly the best foundation for seeking another one…
Whatever she has in mind, I think it’s vital that she reveals it sooner rather than later. If she wants to be a Republican or conservative leader, she can’t leave her followers in the dark as to her intentions. They can’t be left waiting in the wings for a cause that’s never going to materialize, and if they’ll need to look elsewhere for leadership, they need to know.
Theory: She plans to run for president
I still think this is the most likely. But when? Hanson says:
In the long run, she can lecture, earn a good income through speaking, develop a coterie of advisers and supporters, take care of her family, not have the constant political warring on all flanks, and invest time in reflecting and studying issues, visit the country, meet leaders, etc. She’s not looking at 2012; but in eight years by 2016 she will be far more savvy, still young, and far more experienced. It matters not all that the Left writes her off as daffy, since they were going to do that whatever she did; the key is whether she convinces conservatives in eight years of travel and reflection that she’s a charismatic Margaret Thatcher-type heavyweight.
I don’t think so. Getting a head start on the next race is one thing, but eight years is overkill—she can still do a lot towards building her credentials and her ally list in three and a half. Hanson’s comments do highlight the fact that she’ll have ample opportunities even if the upcoming election doesn’t pan out. But I think that the stars are aligning for 2012, if she wants it. The Right is clamoring for a true leader to stand up to Obama’s disastrous agenda, and none of the other would-be names in the field are distinguishing themselves (though, for reasons I may elaborate on in a later post, I think Mike Huckabee could be surprisingly formidable). With the numbers looking worse still for Obamanomics, a charismatic, passionate voice that can unite the opposition and articulate conservative alternatives is The One’s worst nightmare. Sarah Palin has a gift for communication that could give her just the edge she needs to take him down.
Yes, she’ll need to work on her policy expertise in areas in which she’s had less experience, chiefly foreign affairs and the judiciary. But that’s certainly doable, as is surrounding herself with high-caliber advisors. She’ll have to be careful who she listens to—just because some conservatives have constructive criticism to offer doesn’t mean they have sinister ulterior motives (the last thing we need is a repeat of the Fredhead fiasco). And again, she’s got to make her intentions clear soon. Forget the conventional wisdom—if you’re running for president, say so.
There’s a lot we don’t know, and it’s too early to crown her the new queen of the conservative movement. But if Sarah Palin’s willing to put in the effort, Barack Obama’s reign of error could come crashing down sooner than he thinks.