Politics and Grassroots

Palin’s comeback

Yes. Sort of.

Friend of the Program Matt Lewis has mea culpa of sorts at the Daily Beast regarding Sarah Palin. Since her big rookie year in 2008, Lewis argues that it’s been all downhill for the erstwhile conservative rock star

Yes, in 2008, Sarah Palin delivered one of the finest convention speeches I’ve ever heard (trust me, I was there), but she hasn’t exactly been channeling Winston Churchill ever since. Remember her big speech at CPAC a couple of years ago? You know, the one where she took a swig out of a Big Gulp and said of her husband Todd: “He’s got the rifle, I got the rack.” Not exactly a great moment in political rhetoric.

Palin indicated she was “interested” in running for President in 2016. Of course she did; without the possibility (threat?) of a future campaign, her relevance on the speaking circuit may dwindle. Let’s be honest: that’s the only place where she still has any clout.

It didn’t have to be this way. Palin made a conscious choice in her positioning during and after the 2008 Presidential campaign. John McCain rushed her into prime time, and she and her advisers decided to embrace the spotlight by offering folksy, populist rhetoric. That goes a certain distance, but only that certain distance.

Palin decided not to buckle down, narrow her exposure, and build a reputation (or, if you like buzzwords, a brand) around a certain issue set. She could have been the energy expert of the Republican Party, or the person pushing female GOP candidates from dog catcher up to Senator. Better yet, she could have put her head down and spent two or six more years as an effective governor of Alaska, building the stockpile of experience that was missing from her debut.

Most importantly, she could have – and should have – altered her tone. As Lewis notes, Palin has always been the victim of vague forces seeking to destroy her – the “establishment,” the “lamestream media,” and others have apparently taken turns  trying to pull the rising star back to Earth. There’s a value in taking on institutions, but people only root for underdogs who have a chance to become overdogs. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Soon after the smoke cleared from the 2008 campaign, good communications advisors would have told her to stop sounding like a reality show star and start sounding like a policy wonk. Instead, she signed on to do a reality show.

If Palin wants to regain some of the gravitas she has lost, she’ll need to do more than just rehabilitate her image and tone. She’ll need to become a policy expert and recognized champion for an issue or suite of issues. And she’ll need to sound coherent and knowledgable.

If she can’t, Palin has already hit her ceiling.

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