Friday, November 7, 2008

Sarah Palin & The GOP's Future

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I really like Sarah Palin.

Palin has been the focus of many post-mortems, most of it unfair. The only time the GOP was excited, or McCain led in the polls, was in the immediate aftermath of her selection as Veep and her debut speech at the Republican National Convention. She was spunky, attractive, could connect with the base and, even more importantly, she could caress the camera. Her convention speech was electrifying. And, the sight of a mother with five children, especially her “perfect” infant with Down’s Syndrome, was heart-warming to all but the nastiest of snobs.

Now, it turns out, Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. And her experience as a governor was not only brief but exceptional: Alaska is not a typical state. When other governors have to balance budgets carefully, weighing the effects of a reduction in services versus a rise in taxes, Palin gets to decide how much of the state’s oil revenue should be distributed back to the citizens. The state has no income tax, no sales tax and no property tax. Palin has had little exposure to a broad swath of national policy issues because of Alaska’s differentness, but a stint as head of the Republican Governor’s Association would fill-in that deficit.

Palin’s performance in her first interview with Charlie Gibson was tenuous at best. Her follow-up with Katie Couric was a disaster. I do blame her handlers for most of this. Instead of trying to pretend that the physical proximity of Alaska to Russia was of any analytical value, or that her status as commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard provided her with a grounding in national security issues, her staff should have assured her that there is nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I am a governor. We leave the foreign policy issues to the national government. And, I will be learning about those issues at the hands of a master, John McCain.” Instead, she came across as unintelligible and unintelligent, the perfect foil for a Saturday Night Live skit.

Still, those stumbles will be long forgotten in four years and will be easily attributed to her novice status. Her ability to connect with a crowd or a camera and her skill at delivering a stem-winder of a speech will remain.

Palin will also have something four years hence that she lacks today: chits. The day after the election, every state party chairperson faces the same immediate task of replenishing the coffers. And, if you are the state party chair in Ohio or Connecticut or Oregon, and you are thinking that for your big fundraising banquet next year, you want to charge $250 rather than $150 but are worried about whether or not you will be able to fill the room, call Palin. If you book her as your speaker, you will fill that room easily. The base of the party loves her and will open their checkbooks. This time next year, Palin will have acquired a lot of chits and will have the fundraising contacts that are the first step in any presidential bid.

As the GOP regroups from its devastating loss on Tuesday, and the Washington leadership of the party looks tired and out of ideas, Palin remains the one piece of exciting GOP news this year. Keep your eye on her. I would put money on the proposition that she will be their nominee in 2012.

Michael Sean Winters

No comments: