As the Palin family’s “One Nation” bus tour rumbles up the East Coast, we can’t help but chuckle at the media’s deep-seated fetish with all things Sarah.
Will she run or won’t she run? Based on the intensity of the media buzz, one would think we were all back in high school, taping up posters in the hallway and talking about an election for class president.
Sarah Palin is a story the media can’t pass up, but a puzzle that they just can’t solve either. Our advice to the journalists: stop trying to force a logical narrative on Palin’s public activities. Mrs. Palin is mapping out her political future on the fly, and she doesn’t exactly know what is ahead either. So just roll with it or get used to being frustrated and driving in circles.
Like it or not, Sarah Palin is a tremendous political talent. She has yet to realize her true potential, and she knows it. So what are the bus tour and her upcoming movie, The Undefeated, really about?
Given Palin’s new Arizona digs, there’s been speculation that she might have her eye on a U.S. Senate seat. That may be, but Palin has plenty of time to keep this bus rolling before she needs to announce her ultimate destination.
Mitt Romney may be the GOP presidential frontrunner for now, but he has no commanding lead and the Republican presidential field is still relatively open. Most of the other candidates are struggling to get donations and media attention. Give Mrs. Palin credit for realizing that she can turn the open field and media fixation into a massive boost for her national name recognition and fundraising efforts, before she even needs to say what her next stop is.
Let’s suppose that Sarah Palin decides to run for president in 2012. Can she win? Unlike most of the other candidates in the race, Palin doesn’t suffer from lack of name recognition. In fact, it seems that pretty much everyone knows Sarah and already has an opinion of her. So, unless we see a significant shift among GOP primary voters, it is unlikely that Mrs. Palin can move beyond her existing base of supporters to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
So why even try?
This is where most in the media really miss the boat. They assume that everyone who throws their hat into the ring is aiming to win the nomination, when in fact a good number of participants are actually planning for their future both inside and outside of politics. Sarah Palin is no different.
Remember Mrs. Palin has an almost iconic following among right-leaning Americans who feel they don’t have a voice in government. These folks are sick and tired of business as usual within the Republican Party. Couple this star power with the revamped primary rules governing the early contests, which allow candidates to pick up delegates based on their showing, rather than being winner-take-all contests. We can envision Sarah Palin keeping her campaign bus rolling long enough to collect enough delegates to force the Republican Party to pay attention to her throughout the nominating process and potentially give her leverage for some national role beyond the convention.
Of course to accomplish more than just a publicity bus tour, Mrs. Palin would have to surround herself with a top-flight political team and execute a near-flawless game plan that avoids credibility-sapping gaffes. If she wants this to be a bridge to somewhere, Palin needs to prove that she is better than the perceptions that have accumulated around her since 2008. But with Sarah, anything is possible, including this scenario.
So why go through all of the hassle? After all, Palin already has a great gig at Fox News. Being a kingmaker in 2012 may be just enough for Sarah this time around. Mrs. Palin is only in her late-forties. Her best years are still head of her, politically speaking. So stay tuned — this bus may run through more than one set of tires before it stops rolling.
Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.