Sarah Palin can still win the GOP nomination

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Jimmy Carter never said “malaise,” Humphrey Bogart never said, “play it again Sam,” and Sarah Palin never said, “I can see Russia from my front porch.”  But most people are convinced they did. As Yogi Berra quipped, “I never said most of the things I said.”

The caricaturing of Palin has led many political observers to cavalierly dismiss her chances of entering the 2012 GOP field — and winning. My question is…why?

At least one pundit sees the opportunity. Appearing on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell” show Monday, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin noted that Mike Huckabee’s decision to skip the 2012 GOP primary, “leaves a big hole for Sarah Palin who can come in and take over that space that Huckabee left.”

A new Gallup poll seems to confirm his analysis. As The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes,

the field remains decidedly muddled with no clear frontrunner. (Gallup doled out the past support for Huckabee/Trump based on the second place preferences of those voters.) Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney takes 20 percent to 18 percent for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin

Putting this in context, we now know that: 1). Mike Huckabee, a populist social conservative who won Iowa in 2008, isn’t running, and 2). Gallup has Sarah Palin in second place — just two points behind Mitt Romney. It is frankly stunning that — this late in the game — Palin still has a golden opportunity to win the nomination. (We also know, as the polling implies, the weak GOP field lacks a clear front runner to rally behind.)

And yet…conventional wisdom seems to hold that Palin will not run — and even if she does — she can’t win. The assumption is that Palin isn’t serious enough. Once again, I think she is being underestimated.

These assumptions continue to inform the way news stories about Palin are framed. For example, media observers recently began noticing that Palin wasn’t garnering quite as much press attention as before. This was largely portrayed as a sign that her influence may finally be waning — but was that necessarily the right conclusion?

Controversy often generates attention, and while the media were busy covering Donald Trump’s ridiculous antics this spring, Palin was delivering serious speeches in places like Wisconsin – and visiting vitally important nations like Israel and India. This was under-reported.

Also worth noting is that Palin was recently the “star” guest at Tammy Haddad’s garden brunch (for those outside the Beltway, this is the “who’s who” gathering of political insiders and muckety-mucks, held annually to coincide with the White House Correspondents Dinner). Palin’s attendance was reminiscent of another outsider, Ronald Reagan, who railed against DC elites, but attended dinner parties at Washington Post publisher Kay Graham’s house. The old Palin would probably not have attended this “lamestream” media event – the new Palin did.

Of course, it’s too early to know whether any of this foreshadows a presidential run, but consider this: If Palin were serious about running for president, isn’t buttressing her foreign policy credentials by traveling and building bridges with at least some media elites — precisely what she ought to be doing? Keep in mind, going back to Alaska, she has never run a conventional campaign — she always started late and was the underdog. And the good news for Palin is that she has more room for reinvention and growth than most people might realize.

Her supporters raise a good point when they argue she is “the most known, unknown” figure in politics. What they mean is that, despite how ubiquitous she became, she never really had a chance to craft her own image. (During the campaign, Palin was second to Sen. John McCain and, by necessity, had to adopt his campaign’s policies. And by the time the campaign ended, the media had already created the next iteration of the Palin brand.)

Don’t discount the possibility that Palin may indeed be on the verge of launching her second (or is it third?) act. It is entirely plausible to believe that Palin could seize this opportunity, win Iowa and South Carolina, and then make a real run for it. Don’t be surprised if she runs for president, and if she does, she can win.

Matt K. Lewis