You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Can Palin Grow?

Pondering Sarah Palin's political future in the event of a McCain loss next month, Ross Douthat writes:

[S]he would become a not-implausible contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. In those circumstances, the temptation to go for it might be irresistible. But it seems pretty obvious to me that she ought to resist it.... Palin has the luxury of time: She's extremely young, she's going to be a folk hero to the conservative base for years to come almost no matter what, and she can afford to go back to Alaska, govern her state, run for re-election in 2010 and win, and then flirt with a national run in 2012 but ultimately decide against it - because she made a promise to Alaskans, or something like that. Let Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich and Pawlenty fight the right to lose to Obama in '12; even if one of them gets extremely lucky and knocks of the Dem incumbent, by 2020 she'll still be only fifty-six, with plenty of future still ahead of her. Meanwhile, she can hoard her political capital, campaign for GOP candidates in 2010 and 2012 and create a generation of office-holders who owe her, and spend some time reintroducing herself to the American public in a less-partisan context. What Edwards did with poverty, she could do with education or health care or some other issue where the GOP is weak - and better still, she could get involved in overseas charity work, and spend a lot of time shuttling around the Middle East and Africa with Rick Warren and Bono, helping widows and orphans and AIDS patients, occasionally meeting foreign leaders, and filling up the back pages of her passport....

Or, alternatively, she can spend a lot of time on Fox News over the next two years, decline to run for re-election in Alaska, surround herself with the same advisers and strategists who have made the McCain campaign such a glowing success, and run for President in 2012 - and lose to Barack Obama (if she makes it that far) by, oh, seven percentage points or so, amid a flurry of Tina Fey sketches and YouTube clips of the Couric interview. The choice is hers.

I agree with Ross that the former course would be by far the better, but I have a crisp $20 bill I'd be happy to wager with anyone who actually thinks it is the course she'll take. For starters, Palin seems unlikely to spend years preparing herself for a bid at the presidency because, as Frank Rich pointed out over the weekend, she appears terrifyingly convinced that she already is prepared:

[T]here’s a steady unnerving undertone to Palin’s utterances, a consistent message of hubristic self-confidence and hyper-ambition. She wants to be president, she thinks she can be president, she thinks she will be president. And perhaps soon....This was first apparent when Palin extolled a “small town” vice president as a hero in her convention speech — and cited not one of the many Republican vice presidents who fit that bill but, bizarrely, Harry Truman, a Democrat who succeeded a president who died in office. A few weeks later came Charlie Gibson’s question about whether she thought she was “experienced enough” and “ready” when McCain invited her to join his ticket. Palin replied that she didn’t “hesitate” and didn’t “even blink” — a response that seemed jarring for its lack of any human modesty, even false modesty.

In the last of her Couric interview installments on Thursday, Palin was asked which vice president had most impressed her, and after paying tribute to Geraldine Ferraro, she chose “George Bush Sr.” Her criterion: she most admires vice presidents “who have gone on to the presidency.” Hours later, at the debate, she offered a discordant contrast to Biden when asked by Gwen Ifill how they would each govern “if the worst happened” and the president died in office. After Biden spoke of somber continuity, Palin was weirdly flip and chipper, eager to say that as a “maverick” she’d go her own way.

Perhaps more important, the political transformation that Ross envisions--from feisty, parochial partisan to globe-trotting, issue-oriented stateswoman--seems close to inconceivable on purely characterological grounds. Noam has a terrific piece on Palin's political roots that speaks to exactly this question. Describing the experience of a variety of figures in Alaskan politics who thought Palin's fierce political talents could eventually be domesticated, he writes:

The group's efforts reflected a kind of establishment delusion--the hope that if you just surround the rough-hewn outsider with the right advisers and submerge her in the proper environment, she'll eventually assimilate. It's a delusion that's playing out all over again on the McCain campaign, amid all the briefings with the likes of Henry Kissinger and Joe Lieberman. Give Palin a few months in the Old Executive Office Building, the thinking goes, and she'll become Adlai Stevenson. But it never quite works out that way. As Nixon demonstrated, the forces of class resentment can be all-consuming and elemental.

As they say, read the whole thing.

--Christopher Orr