Friday, August 26, 2011

Crunch Time

The field for the 2012 GOP nomination appears to be set, or at least I thought so. Rick Perry entered the fray, shook things up, and now leads not only Romney but also Obama. Shouldn't that be enough?

Apparently not. There's still one more name, one more candidate: Sarah Palin. She promised to let us all know her intentions come Labor Day, the day the campaigns get serious. And there are still people who think she's the answer to all the questions raised about the current Republican candidates.

James Oliphant has a very clever column up which takes a look at a possible run by Ms. Palin. He gives five reasons why she will run and five why she won't, and each list is a mirror image of the other.

The column is really well done and deserves a full reading, but two elements from the "why she won't" really stood out for me:

2. She can’t do it her way. Even Barack Obama, with all of the fawning media coverage and all of the attention he received in 2007 and 2008, had to build an extensive, sprawling network of operatives, volunteers and surrogates to first beat Hillary Clinton and then capture the presidency. Until someone proves otherwise, presidential campaigns succeed from the ground up, not the top down. Palin has shown no sign of wanting to build an operation such as that, nor has shown any desire for day-in, day-out campaigning. There's also the question of money. While it's generally assumed that Palin wouldn't have trouble raising funds for her campaign, that hasn't been tested. And as Romney and Perry work to lock up donors, time is becoming an enemy in that regard.

3. She has it pretty good. Palin is one of America’s biggest stars—and she can have an effect on Republican politics by simply posting on Facebook. Her status as a private citizen allows her to choose where and when she engages the media. And right now, she makes a lot of money, whether from her reportedly $1-million Fox News contract, speaking gigs or books. The bottom line is that she is in almost complete control of her time and her image. If she runs, that will change dramatically. And coming up short risks damaging a brand that she has worked hard to cultivate.


With respect to reason 2 one need look no further than Newt Gingrich's "campaign." He promised us a new way, and he's been pretty good about delivering. The problem is that it hasn't worked so far, and will probably fail in the long run. Newt is running in place, and one of the reasons for that is that he didn't bother with lining people up to do the hard work at local and state levels. He figured his personal charisma would be enough. Obviously it's not.

Reason 3, however, is the big one, the one that trumps all the rest. Palin has spent the last three years cultivating that brand and doing so with amazing success. The press still dances to whatever tune she whistles, following every bus trip even while complaining that she doesn't give them an itinerary. And those little excursions are always timed to give her maximum exposure as they grab the spotlight away from other candidates and other events on the campaign trail. She doesn't need the hard work of a political campaign to keep that brand front and center: the press has shown that they will do that for her. Free.

So, at least at this point, I think Palin is just being a narcissistic tease. She isn't going to run. But if I'm wrong, and that announcement on Labor Day puts her in, I'm doubling down on popcorn futures.



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