Matt Lewis

When it comes to Palin, ignore the ‘experts’

The insiders are largely agreed: Sarah Palin isn’t really running for president. She is more interested in making money and getting publicity. So her movie, bus tour, and poll numbers mean nothing. Zero. Nada.

The best example of this is probably found in Byron York’s column today:

“The bottom line is Sarah Palin is not going to run for president,” says a Republican adviser close to front-runner Mitt Romney. “She’s making money, she’s moved on, she’s kind of an entertainer rather than a politician. She still has some sway with the grass roots, but she is not going to run.”

“I don’t think she’s going to run,” says a Republican close to Tim Pawlenty. “She has faded a lot in the last few months. I look at what she’s doing now and say that she’s found a way to get back in the story.”

The obvious point here is that operatives working for Palin’s rivals have an incentive to dismiss her. (Ironically, I think this might actually entice her to run.) It would be a mistake for readers to believe analysis coming from Palin’s political rivals.

But they’re not alone. A lot of political insiders and campaign experts I talk to are convinced Palin is just in this for the attention — that she won’t run because running and losing would destroy her “brand.” They point to the fact that her team isn’t engaged in the organizational logistics a traditional presidential campaign must have in place to win in, say, Iowa, as evidence she isn’t running.

To be sure, there is something to be said for listening to the wise political experts and sages who have studied the game of politics. But their conventional wisdom falls flat when it comes to Palin. Reading these tea leaves might be a worthwhile predictor were we talking about a traditional politician like, say, Mitt Romney. But Palin is anything but a conventional politician. The fact that she’s not building a traditional campaign organization implies nothing.

Should she run, Palin will be unconventional — like a guerrilla insurgent fighting against the Redcoats. The experts can point to the number of soldiers against her, the training and weapons they have at their disposal, their nice uniforms, etc. — but the problem is they all march in a line. They are fighting an old-style fight. Palin believes the world has changed — that the old rules no longer matter. She may be right or wrong, but either way, the fact that she’s not checking off the traditional boxes shouldn’t be cited as evidence that she isn’t running.

By the way, sometimes an unpredictable opponent is the most dangerous. There’s a great scene in the movie “Bull Durham” where baseball catcher “Crash” Davis (played by Kevin Costner) tells dangerously-wild pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) to intentionally hit the team’s mascot with a pitch. (This, of course, serves to make opposing hitters believe Laloosh is either crazy — or cannot control his very fast pitches.) Costner then looks at the batter and says: “I wouldn’t dig in if I was you. Next one might be at your head. I don’t know where it’s gonna go. Swear to God.”

That’s probably good advice for Palin’s rivals and the so-called experts who think they are so sure she’s not going to run. (I don’t know what she’s going to do. Swear to God.)