The 2012 election: handicapping Sarah Palin

Ed Ross Contributor
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Republicans will do very well in the November elections. They almost certainly will take control of the House. If this is a “wave” election, they could capture the Senate as well. Control of Congress, however, is only half the battle. If Republicans want to completely blunt the Obama agenda and set the country on a different course, they must win the White House in 2012. To do that, they need the right nominee; and, like her or not, the potential Republican presidential candidate talked about more than any other is Sarah Palin.

Liberal commentators in the media as well as some voices in the conservative establishment continue to remind us of the obstacles that stand between Palin and the presidency. Palin’s overall favorability ratings remain below 50 percent. Many people question Palin’s qualifications and suitability for the job and consider her controversial and divisive.

If Palin chooses to seek the presidency, her critics will highlight her resignation from the governorship of Alaska, her missteps in the 2008 election, and her lack of foreign policy experience. And they will remind us that Americans have never elected a president who was the losing vice presidential candidate four years earlier. Twelve years elapsed between Franklin D. Roosevelt’s failed 1920 bid for the vice presidency and his 1932 election as president.

Nevertheless, assuming Sarah Palin intends to seek the presidency in 2012, substantial evidence indicates that she would be a formidable candidate, that she could win the nomination and even the election. Back in February, in my column on “Palin’s Presidential Prospects,” I said “Anyone who questions Palin’s presidential ambition either isn’t paying attention or wants to discourage it. Anyone who doubts her prospects either underestimates her or doesn’t understand the mood of the country and the dynamics of presidential politics.”

Palin’s transition from failed presidential running mate to prospective presidential candidate has been nothing short of phenomenal. Despite the left and the left-leaning media’s ridicule and derisiveness, she has adapted quickly and effectively on the national scene and become a political force with exceptional clout. Conservative Republican candidates from Delaware to California seek her endorsement. Objective commentators on the right and the left increasingly write and talk about her as a serious contender.

Palin also has demonstrated her ability to communicate directly with voters. Her use of Twitter and Facebook already has eclipsed Barack Obama’s use of them in the 2008 campaign. Her first book, Going Rogue, was a runaway best seller. America by Heart, out November 23, will be also. Her speeches, like the one she made at the 8/28 “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, are stirring and compelling. Palin has no official spokesperson, and Americans that are supportive of her believe she speaks directly to them and that she understands what they think and feel.

Given Palin’s political influence, she might have decided to encourage Tea Party candidates in the current election cycle to pursue the third-party route with an eye on her own third-party run for the White House as candidates from Theodore Roosevelt to Ross Perot did. But as former chairman of Virginia’s Democratic Party, Paul Goldman, points out in his September 17 column, “Has Sarah Palin Saved the GOP?” “Palin has kept the Tea Party faithful inside the GOP tent. Had she instead encouraged these disillusioned voters to mount third-party challenges across the 2010 general-election ballot, dozens of Democratic incumbents, not to mention challengers, would be smiling like Woodrow Wilson in 1912.” A “no-brainer”? Perhaps, but good politicians routinely make politically fatal miscalculations.

With a large base of support among people in the Tea Party movement, Palin has a potential constituency that no one should underestimate. As pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen wrote in their September 14 column, “One Nation under Revolt,” “The Tea Party movement has become one of the most powerful and extraordinary movements in recent American political history. It is as popular as both the Democratic and Republican parties. It is potentially strong enough to elect senators, governors and congressmen. It may even be strong enough to elect the next president of the United States—time will tell.”

And, in case you haven’t been paying close attention, one of the biggest political stories of 2010 is the female conservative candidates poised to win office. From Nikki Haley in South Carolina to Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in California, 2010 is the year of the conservative woman. It was Sarah Palin who made this possible both by her example and by her endorsements. It is an omen that may prove prophetic for her in 2012.

Palin has a long way to go before she even becomes the Republican nominee, not to speak of becoming the president. What everyone should keep in mind, however, is what American voters have been demonstrating in election upset after election upset over the past year. They want their elected officials, especially their president, to share their core American principles and values—belief in American exceptionalism, smaller government, lower taxes, free enterprise—and to be people they can trust to govern accordingly. They want to “restore America” not “transform America.”

A great many Independents and Republicans who voted for Barack Obama superimposed on him their own ideas about what they thought he believed and how he would govern. They have abandoned him in droves because he has greatly disappointed them.

In 2012, when Republicans, including Tea Party members, vote in caucuses and primaries to select their presidential nominee, they will vote for candidates they believe they know and understand and that they trust won’t disappoint them. And if Palin becomes the party’s nominee, as she very well might, the outcome of the general election won’t depend on which candidate has the most foreign policy experience or the best establishment credentials. It will depend on which candidate Americans think has the better vision for America and which candidate they trust more.

The 2008 presidential election was about the economy and displeasure with George W. Bush. The 2012 election will be about restoring America, trust, and displeasure with Barack Obama.

Ed Ross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of EWRoss International LLC, a company that provides global consulting services to clients in the international defense marketplace. He publishes commentary at EWRoss.com.