UPDATE: Rather than a blow to a career, Sarah Palin's decision to resign underlines her self-awareness, writes The Daily Beast's John Batchelor. She is now unmatched for the 2012 primary.
The early excuse for the Republican circular firing squad of the holiday weekend is that Weekly Standard editor and party brainiac Bill Kristol claims that pugnacious McCain campaign enforcer Steve Schmidt has been caught gossiping to Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum about Sarah Palin’s rambling and incoherent vice-presidential campaign last September and October. (Now that Palin has announced her resignation from Alaska’s governorship, the late excuse for the fisticuffs will certainly be that the boys smelled a special mom baking an apple pie in the kitchen of the GOP and they got in line early with a plate and appetite.)
Purdum, writing with a polite disdain, does flatter Palin as “the sexiest and riskiest brand in the Republican Party,” before he goes on to mention unnamed McCain campaign sources who tell stories of Palin’s erratic behavior on the trail supposedly caused by her “post-partum depression.” Kristol asserts as evidence that Schmidt was the source of this defamatory rumor that Kristol knows that Schmidt has recently emailed Palin out of the blue. “Perhaps Steve was nervous someone would finger him for the Purdum piece,” Kristol proposes.
What Palin begins with an announcement from Wasilla is not only a campaign, it is an Iditarod of a crusade.
Firing back, Schmidt immediately emailed a reference to Bill Kristol’s distant youth when he worked for the perennial GOP chump, Vice President Dan Quayle: “I’m sure John McCain would be president today if only Bill Kristol had been in charge of the campaign.”
Meanwhile, the sniping continues to deteriorate, with erstwhile McCain campaign advisers like Randy Scheunemann choosing sides with Kristol (Scheunemann hates Schmidt, who tried to force him out of the campaign as a leaker and confiscated his BlackBerry), while Schmidt reveals that he had the permission of McCain and Palin to ferret out who was leaking unkind details on Palin to the media. No comment yet from the senator and the governor on their genius of a Plumbers Unit. Another campaign aide, Nicole Wallace, and her husband, Mark Wallace, are mentioned as founts of poison on Palin. “This is all news to me,” Nicole Wallace proclaims.
Is this normal after a losing presidential campaign? No. Nor is this a normal year for the Republicans. Kristol and Schmidt and their cronies all know that the Republican brand that they depend upon for a job and for money, lots of money, has been wrecked to the point of no return. They are veterans of a lost cause with one wild adventure to try before history moves on—and the adventurer’s name is Sarah Palin.
Palin’s sudden announcement that she will resign the Alaska governorship at the end of July, delivered alongside the fireworks of the 4th of July, underlines her self-awareness that she must respond to the pyrotechnics of her stature in the GOP—and must respond in an explosive fashion. Discarding the demands of an Alaska job that is at best part-time, undemanding, predictable, banal, means that she will now devote full-time to traveling the “lower 48” in order to speak, speak, speak. Wherever she goes, she is Alaska, moose-hunting, and Wasilla. As a candidate, she begins the nomination hunt with a formula that none of her rivals can match, not even Mitt Romney, not only because she gave up something in order to go for the White House but also because she reached this decision by being drafted.
What is going on right now in the Republican Party—even as the professionals scramble to react with grins and snorts to the news of Palin’s Alaska resignation—are the early scenes of the 2012 campaign for the presidency with Sarah Palin as the once and future hero. Like Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth Regina, and, skipping four centuries of quarrelsome princes, Margaret Thatcher, the Republican Party has already decided that the governor of Alaska will rescue the GOP from its ruination. What Sarah Palin begins with an announcement from Wasilla is not only a campaign, it is an Iditarod of a crusade—first woman, first mom, and second moose-hunter into the White House.
If you scoff at Palin for president, you are likely insufficiently cynical to work on a national campaign. Eight months after the election, the governor is as natural and gifted a presidential candidate as anyone since Huey Long. The farther she stays away from Washington and the longer she pushes away those sharpies clamoring for her to raise PAC money, to prepare gray-bearded policy positions, network at the barbecues in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina (well, maybe not South Carolina right now), the more box-office irresistible she will be to Republican primary voters. What most recommends the Palin boom is that she is now, 40 months to the election, as celebrated by the GOP right wing as she is reviled by the Democratic left wing.
Rather than a blow to a career, the Purdum piece in Vanity Fair is a spectacular tribute to a force of nature that became an “ineradicable” caricature before she became a household name. Tina Fey’s talent is a walking advertisement for presidential debates to come. Purdum employs his talent for disregard in order to collect a posse of anonymous tattletales, back-stabbers and snitches—many of them unsurprisingly males—to weave a political biography that is compelling in its improbability and breathtaking in its portrait of a young, deceitful, driven, unapologetic, spontaneous, and cunning scalawag. Purdum’s notion of a sober put-down is to quote the wooden fossil of a cigar store Indian, Governor Walter S. Hickel, who complains that after he helped Palin get elected governor, “She never called me after that.” The stories about Palin and her rambunctious daughters, her riveting special-needs child, her cheerful parents, her innate affection for the strangeness of Alaska, and her magical romance with her rock-star attractive husband Todd are all a setup to learning that in the governor’s office she is Elmer Gantry in a skirt, as clannish, vengeful, petty, tireless, ill-read, pouty and manipulative as anyone Hollywood could dream up and play Mildred Pierce. The darkest revelations about Palin are that she didn’t like preparing for the tedious TV interviews; she treated the dull Biden debate as irrelevant; and she wanted to make her own concession speech on election night. In sum, the governor does not like losers, does not like to lose, and was liberated the moment she shed the burden of bootless John McCain.
What Kristol and Schmidt know is that the only Republican candidate worth cutting each other up about is Sarah Palin. The governor certainly does not need either of them other than as stable hands for Joan of Arc’s replacement horses or as Joan Crawford’s makeup artists. In fact, the governor does not need much more than a ballot line from the aimless, tongue-tied, villain-rich GOP. She certainly does not need the GOP to do well in the congressional mid-terms in 2010; she does not need the party to improve its flabby polling on health care or trust; she does not even need the Republican Party to raise a voice to explain her positions on the burning controversies on Capitol Hill. Palin does not need to prove anything at all about wise government, because she appeals directly to the anti-authoritarian crowd that has been with us since Shay’s Rebellion in 1787. It is an accident of history, and of John McCain’s whimsy, that Sarah Palin caught Potomac Fever in September ‘08, and it will carry her either to the White House or to that place even rarer, where the Kingfisher dwells, called what-could’ve-been.
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.