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11.24.10

Don't Run Sarah!

Mark McKinnon finds Sarah Palin a captivating figure. He’s also dead-set against her seeking the White House in 2012. The ex-Bush adviser on why Palin would lose—and damage her party.

I spent only a few hours with the former governor, helping to prepare her for the vice presidential debate in October 2008. And during that brief window, I saw Palin at one of her most vulnerable moments, when any result other than a complete train wreck seemed impossible. And yet I also saw a determined woman buckle down, recover her confidence and then storm the national stage where she more than held her own against a seven-term senator.

Did she face some tough slogging to reach her remarkable perch? Sure, you betcha. I admire her tenacity, her verve, her moxie, and her pluck. As she releases what’s sure to be another bestseller, America by Heart, I think it’s phenomenal how Palin has been able to leverage her moment in the spotlight. I marvel at her masterful manipulation of the media, and her ability to redirect the national debate with merely a tweet. Most of all, I like the way she defies conventional wisdom and does things her own way: She doesn’t retreat, she reloads. And without Palin and the Tea Party backing Republican candidates, I doubt the crimson tide would have risen so high Nov. 2.

Palin’s appeal completely befuddles metro-intellectuals. They scoff at her “experience,” holding the one-time city manager, mayor, oil and gas commission chair, governor, and vice presidential nominee to a different standard than candidate Obama. A marathon runner, mother of five, and grandmother to one, she has no qualms about smacking a slimy halibut—or an oil and gas company—upside the head. And don’t be fooled, underneath that “prom hair” is a brilliant populist.

Yet I find myself continually goaded into denigrating her, saying things like “she’s reached her sell-by date,” “her stock is going down,” and “if she’s smart, she won’t run for president.” And I was going to go on TV recently and say, “It’s rare you hear quantitative easing and Sarah Palin in the same sentence,” until I realized that she did a hell of a lot better job explaining the complex concept than I could.

Though she is rightfully suspicious of advice from outside Team Palin, and she certainly doesn't care what I think, it is my strong opinion that she should not run. Not just because I don’t agree with her positions or her politics, but because the coming political fight is about more than the future of Sarah Palin. It’s about the future of the country.

All the fun, the money, the power will only be diminished if she runs. Because I don’t care how you cut it, in the end she will lose.

President Obama’s approval rating is now just 39 percent, and he is statistically tied in a direct matchup with Palin according to a new Zogby poll. And according to Quinnipiac, American voters believe that Obama does not deserve a second term by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. But Palin is viewed unfavorable by 51 percent of voters. And among independents, the key swing voting bloc, her negative is at 54 percent. She is not the right candidate right now.

Framing the presidential contest ahead, Mona Charen put it well: “Voters chose a novice with plenty of star power in 2008 and will be inclined to swing strongly in the other direction in 2012. Americans will be looking for sober competence, managerial skill, and maturity, not sizzle and flash.”

If Palin runs, I think the entire Republican primary process will be hijacked. With ardent fans and a rabid media, it will become Palin-palooza. A celebrity fest will follow with even more amplitude than the adulation and adoration that surrounded Barack Obama, who was so revered he was sometimes referred to in biblical proportions as “The One.” An all-consuming super nova, Palin will suck the oxygen out of every room, everywhere she goes. And one of two things will happen. Discerning conservative voters in early primary states will be offended by the circus-like atmosphere and the presumption that they could so easily fall for a “cult of personality.” And they will vote against her. And she will lose. Or, Republican voters will be completely swept up in the mania and nominate her as the GOP standard bearer to go up against President Obama. And she will lose—perhaps the only Republican nominee who could lose in 2012.

But I also think she shouldn’t run for her sake. How could life get any better? She has more power, money, control, and influence than she could have ever possibly imagined. Two bestselling books, almost 2.5 million Facebook fans, a record-breaking cable TV show, and a daughter who made it to the finals on another TV show—not because of her abilities, but because she’s Sarah Palin’s daughter, and by god, the Palinistas out there defiantly come to her rescue week after week.

Palin is having fun. She decided governing Alaska was, well, just a pain. Too much work. A hassle. Whatever. Next. There I go again, denigrating. See, it’s just a reflex. It’s easy to discount her accomplishments, and to ignore the ludicrous opposition Palin faced in the courts and in the press on her return to office from the campaign trail. But my point is, all the fun, the money, the power will only be diminished if she runs. Because, I don’t care how you cut it, in the end she will lose. She is just too polarizing a figure at this point in her career to win a general election. And if the Republicans lose to a weakened President Obama, she will forever be blamed for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Meghan McCain: Palin’s Media StrategyBut I know how these things go. First of all, as James Carville said, running for president is like sex. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard to stop. Second, once the drum beat starts, and all your friends and admirers start telling you, “For the sake of the Republic, it’s your duty to run,” it’s awfully hard not to let your ego get filled with a lot of helium. Next thing you know, you’re shivering at a diner in January in Iowa.

I know there are millions of conservative women and young grizzlettes out there who admire Sarah Palin. She inspires them; she is them. They know that beneath the sequined lapel pin roars the heart of a Mama Grizzly wronged. And they are offended when elites, the media, and smart asses like me dismiss her infectious optimism, her pitch-fork populism, and her love of family, faith and the flag.

In my view, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened to her as a political figure had she not been plucked too soon from obscurity, if she had been allowed to ripen on the vine for a couple of terms as governor of Alaska before emerging on the national scene. Alas, she was thrown onto the rocket sled of celebrity and has ridden to heights never before seen.

And if Palin doesn't run for the top slot, she will very likely be on the short list again for vice president. Or certainly for a cabinet slot if the Republicans win.

Only one thing is for sure. Sarah Palin is going to be around for a very long time. She’s already had a few last laughs, and she’s likely to have a whole lot more before the closing credits roll. ’Cause life as America’s sweetheart—and siren for the left—is “flippin’ fun.”

No matter what happens, whether she runs for president or not, Palin is going to be Pot Stirrer-in-Chief.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.