The polls don't look good for Sarah Palin, at least for the moment. The GOP's professional chatterers—Karl Rove, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, and most recently Joe Scarborough—fret that she will do to the Republican Party what "Burlesque" has done to Cher. Even the GOP's royal family—the Bushes of Texas-by-way-of-Greenwich, Connecticut—has taken the rather unusual step of publicly seeking her prompt exile from their club. Bar, in particular, is not amused.
And yet Sarah Palin remains a rank-and-file favorite. Her second book is yet another hit. She has nearly two million more Facebook fans than establishment favorite Mitt Romney, two million more than even former President George W. Bush, and incidentally nearly 300 times as many as Bush's mother. Supporters have made the reform-minded unknown from the Deep North into an instant millionaire many times over—and they just might make her the GOP nominee. Do Palinistas believe they have a case to make? You betcha. Here are their five top reasons why her nomination might turn out to be a good thing for the Republican Party:
1. Goodbye Karl Rove. No place rewards failure more than Washington D.C. Mismanaged companies, gravely irresponsible mortgage lenders and homeowners, idiots on Wall Street—all have been bailed out by good ol' Uncle Sam. Political consultants aren't much different. Thanks to President Obama and his party's monumental misjudgments, the GOP did not get the typical party-out-of-power wilderness period, a time to expunge the dead weight at the top. Thus the very same people who lost the House and Senate to the Democrats in 2006, who helped President Bush stagger out of office in 2008 less popular than Nixon, and who brought the GOP to historic lows in popular approval—lows that exist to this day—are still trying to call the shots. Most of them won't be FedExing their resumes to Team Palin anytime soon. If it does anything, a Palin nomination would likely shake loose their grip on the party apparatus, allowing new people to emerge in 2012 and beyond. A little fresh air could be a good thing for the grand old party, even an Arctic blast from Alaska.
Gallery: Sarah Palin’s Future Enemies
2. She's Earned It. Palin, her supporters note, was the vice-presidential candidate on a ticket that came within seven points of the White House. More than the dour, establishment-tainted John McCain ever did, she inspired and energized millions of voters. Shortly after her announcement, the McCain-Palin ticket was leading in nearly every poll. That wasn't because voters suddenly fell in love with the Arizonan's cuddly smile. Since 2008, Palin has campaigned across the country for the party, raising money and campaigning for dozens of candidates (with varying degrees of success). Palin in fact proved so appealing to certain segments of the GOP base that earlier this year even McCain, facing a tough Senate primary challenge, asked her to bail him out. The party has a history of rewarding many of its top candidates from the prior election; why, supporters ask, is Palin any different?
3. She's More Astute than People Think. Governor Palin famously lacks Ivy League credentials, having attended five different colleges to get her degree. This fact has been seized on as an example of her lack of academic seriousness, but it could just as easily be viewed as a sign of her drive and single-mindedness. Critics take note: This same political novice unseated a sitting Alaska governor in a crowded GOP primary and then defeated another former governor in the general election. That aint nothin'. Despite a notable lack of familiarity with issues in the 2008 campaign, by 2012 she will have had four years to study up, and is putting together a formidable policy team to do just that. Practically immune by now to criticism, she has the opportunity to advance daring ideas—a list that could include entitlement reform, reduction of the size of the federal government, term limits, serious cuts in spending—the sort of issues most of the other blow-dried, PowerPoint-happy rivals would be too timid to discuss. Wouldn't it be ironic, her supporters ask, if Sarah Palin turned out to be the "ideas candidate" for the GOP. The fact is that none of Palin's many critics have the money, support, and microphone that she has, all of which she has used to become a media phenomenon. She even has used critics' low expectations to her advantage. Nearly everyone expected Palin to crawl off the debate stage after her encounter with Joe Biden in 2008, yet by the end of the forum even some in the media thought she had won.
Palin haters: This so-called "dummy" is underestimated at your peril.
4. Beware the Candidate Scorned. One of the great ironies of the GOP's current political success is that it is in large part driven by thousands, if not millions, of people who detest it. Palin benefits from the yawning frustration with a GOP hierarchy that Tea Partiers and party conservatives believe has lost its principles, commitment to fiscal and personal responsibility, and sense of direction. "Robbing" their favorite of the 2012 nomination, at least without seeming to have given her a fair chance, may be something the party deeply regrets, especially if her millions of alienated, and fed up, followers stay home. Besides, Palin followers argue, would the party really be that much better off with a field of helplessly bland, middle-aged white males with the excitement of a ShamWOW! infomercial. They might even make the surprisingly dull Obama—who sees every public forum as another chance to conduct a seminar on the mechanics of governance—look cutting-edge.
5. Lessons from defeat. Though Palinistas won't say this, her nomination could be a valuable educational opportunity. Many supporters of the Tea Party—some 71 percent of the GOP, according to polls—are not the lunatics, birthers, or racists who gain most of the media's attention. A good number are simply political novices wanting to advance ideas and make a difference. A group like that could use the Palin candidacy to learn how the political nominating process works, to better understand how to craft a coherent message that can be embraced by more people, and to become more seasoned political operatives. The Democrats had this opportunity after the McGovern disaster of 1972, which led to the rise of a whole generation of more skillful liberal politicians, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. And of course, for the GOP, the Goldwater debacle of 1964 ultimately led to the rise of Ronald Reagan.
Would the party really be that much better off, Palin followers ask, with a field of helplessly bland, middle-aged white males with the excitement of a ShamWOW! Infomercial?
Matt Latimer is the author of the New York Times bestseller, SPEECH-LESS: Tales of a White House Survivor. He was deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush and chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld.