Last week I made a rare appearance on MSNBC (a network on which I have had numerous “YouTube moments” since the 2008 election, when they became the “Obama Network”) and shared some statements which apparently shocked some of my fellow conservatives.
Since even before the release of my documentary about the media coverage of Obama’s election, I have been described by many commentators (both as a compliment and as a condemnation) as Sarah Palin’s most ardent defender against the never-ending stream of unfair media attacks against her. What seemed to surprise people on both ends of the political spectrum was my assertion on “Morning Joe” that, based on her current path, and barring a literal act of God, there is absolutely no chance that Palin can beat Obama in 2012.
Since the television appearance was barely five minutes long and my view of this important subject is far more nuanced than can possibly be articulated in the microwave world of cable TV “news” (or even a later radio interview I did with host Joe Scarborough about this subject), I wish to fully explain my thinking so that any confusion about where I stand may be as limited as possible.
First, the reason I went on MSNBC is that Joe Scarborough and I have had a running (and sometimes rather pointed) e-mail exchange about his coverage of Sarah Palin which was escalated when his show did a seemingly endless segment on how intellectually deficient she supposedly is. Joe has offered me an open invitation to “debate” that and other issues related to Palin when I am next in New York where his show is broadcast. Since Palin was on the “Tonight Show” last week and because I live in Burbank, we decided the occasion might make for a good opportunity to do a quick “preview” of coming attractions. I also made it clear to him that there was something about Palin that I have wanted to get off my chest for several weeks. This was the issue of what her intent and potential is for the 2012 presidential race.
When I first met Palin at her home in early 2009, after our interview for my documentary we had a rather lengthy conversation, which of course eventually turned to her political future. Unsolicited, I offered my very strong opinion that, thanks to the media’s worship of Obama and their unfair destruction of her, that I thought it would be foolhardy for her to even consider running against him in 2012. My advice at the time was for her to run for Senate in 2014 and run in 2016 for President when presumably there will be no incumbent running and when the narrative about her (thanks to the media’s love of a good “comeback”) would likely be vastly more positive than in 2012. Palin was clearly listening intently but said almost nothing in response. Those who witnessed the conversation said she did not seem to like what she was hearing.
However, after the remarkable success of her book and the incredible decline in Obama’s political popularity, I started to think that, with any luck, Palin could win the Republican nomination and that she would at least have a shot against The One, assuming the economy didn’t significantly improve. But now I am thoroughly convinced that while Obama is somewhat vulnerable (if the economy improves, he wins big, if it stays the same, he wins very small, if it gets worse, he loses big), Sarah Palin has less of a chance to beat him than just about anyone else who is currently considered in contention.
The reasons I have come to this painful conclusion are numerous.
First, the path that she has chosen this year has gone in almost the exact opposite direction of where she would need to go in order to be a threat to Obama in 2012. In fact, this seems so obvious that I can only conclude (since I know her to be a very intelligent person) that she has no intention of running and simply keeping the door open so as to augment her relevance as she campaigns for others in 2010.
By joining Fox News Channel and fully embracing the Tea Party movement (both of which are fantastic in concept but far less than perfect in practice) I believe she has sealed herself off from having any chance to change the minds that she would have to persuade to be viable against Obama. This includes the vast majority of the over seventy percent of voters which polls show think she is “not qualified” to be president, as well as numerous die-hard Republicans who have unfortunately (and despite my best efforts) already completely bought into the media’s negative view of her.
Palin is already revered by large portions of the Fox audience and Tea Party crowd, which only make up approximately thirty percent of the voting populace. While enhancing her standing with this faction would obviously help her in a primary battle (in which I still think she would be extremely formidable), it actually harms her in the minds of the thirty percent of open-minded “independents” who actually determine Presidential elections. Because both Fox News and the Tea Parties have been so vilified by the media in the minds of these voters, Palin will be put further (and perhaps permanently) into the box of being a far-right “wing nut,” which is more than ironic considering she was chosen as McCain’s VP largely because of her willingness to rise above partisanship.
There is also a huge opportunity cost here considering the other paths she could have chosen (you can’t tell me ABC’s “This Week” with a new host wouldn’t have killed to have Palin join them as weekly commentator) which would have increased her “gravitas,” limited the risk of overexposure, and given her proper access to the type of people she would need to eventually win over. She was great on the “Tonight Show,’ but no one is going to change their perception that she is not presidential timber by watching her be lightly questioned by Jay Leno and doing stand up comedy.
The other danger of the Fox/Tea Party route is that it undoubtedly gives the Obama campaign a treasure trove of potential negative campaign commercials against her. After all, the “Hope/Change” gang showed us endless ads with a simple photo of John McCain hugging a two-term President who once had an 89% approval rating. Just think of what mischief they would come up with as they tied her tangentially to all sorts of people they could easily made to look like nut jobs.
I am sure there will be a lot of counter arguments to my thesis, so let me try to deal with them up front.
Some will say that the first hurdle is winning the nomination and that, should the economy continue in deep recession, that anyone at the top of the Republican ticket would beat Obama. Therefore, Palin is right to worry about appealing to the “base” first and then deal with independents and Obama later.
My answer to that would be that under the “economic doom” scenario, Palin might very be the only mainstream Republican Obama could beat. Think of it this way, if things are truly that desperate in 2012, is America really going to dump a guy who at least has four years of Presidential experience for a person who has none, who “quit” her job as Governor of a small state, and who they have been told over and over is not very bright?
You see the problem with coming up with a scenario where Palin could be Obama in 2012 is that the worse things get for him, the less likely that the country would be to take a chance on her.
The same phenomenon exists should Palin be seen as responsible for a huge Republican congressional victory in 2010. This is because should Obama lose his congressional majorities (or at least his large margins) the fear of a far left liberal with a run away congress will be greatly dissipated and actually increase the chances of Obama getting reelected, no matter whom he runs against.
But what about the notion that all of the old rules have changed and that, thanks to Palin’s immense celebrity (arguably the equal to Obama’s), anything is possible for someone of her stature?
Well, there is no doubt that her celebrity power keeps her theoretically viable to do literally anything she wants, except the problem here is that huge portions of public believe, wrongly, that they already know the real Sarah Palin and these people will not be shown anything at all that could even hypothetically change their minds about her until a general election. By then, with the power of incumbency and the vast majority of the news media behind Obama, there would simply not be the time, resources, or perhaps even the opportunity to change the huge number of minds that would have to be altered in order to get Palin 270 electoral votes. And again, are Republicans really going to run against an over-hyped, inexperienced, charismatic celebrity by nominating someone who is already thought of exactly that way by at least half of America?
It seems to me that the only way for Palin to get a legitimate second look by the people in the middle is for her to not run until 2016 at the earliest. Should she decline to run (ideally immediately after leading Republicans to a perceived victory in 2010) she would help kill off the perception of her as overly ambitious and she might even endear herself to the party leadership by saving them from an almost certainly brutal and destructive presidential primary.
Of course, it is very important to point out that something like this may already be Palin’s plan (for the record, I have shared almost all of these thoughts with her via her personal e-mail but have received no response). So far, I have not seen one shred of legitimate evidence indicating that she has decided to run and some serious indications that she won’t. If she really possesses the personal qualities that I have been claiming she does, then she will realize that it is not in her, her party’s, or her country’s interest for her to do so.
But what worries me is that the very same news media, which has essentially assassinated her character since late 2008 (and which she has played to her great advantage for at least the past year) will have a profound economic and political incentive to coax her into running. They would like nothing better than the huge ratings that would come from a Palin run and will be thirsting like vampires just before dawn at the very thought of getting another chance to kill her off.
It is quite possible that with the media playing their siren’s song, her fans chanting “run, Sarah, run!,” her obsequious advisors hoping for campaign jobs, and with the specter of being the first female nominated for president tantalizingly within her grasp, the temptation may just be too great for her or any other human to resist. If she is able to do so, it will forever prove that media’s narrative about her could not be more wrong.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.