The Alaskan would enter the presidential race with little infrastructure, a near complete lack of a policy agenda, and eye-popping unfavorable ratings.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
Sarah Palin’s bus tour dominated this week’s news, raising to a fever pitch the question of whether she will, or will not, run for president. The better question: Does she have what it takes to become president?
Doing that sort of straight analysis is almost impossible today, given the violent emotion Mrs. Palin inspires from critics and supporters. The former Alaska governor is no longer a mere politician; she is a symbol.
Her fans have come to view her as the living antithesis of everything they find offensive—the mainstream media, cultural elites, out-of-touch Washington. She so embodies this role that it is no longer clear whether her backers support her in her own right or support her because they so dislike what she dislikes.
Mrs. Palin’s initial mistreatment, by a press (on the right and the left) that was both jeering and patronizing, has in fact resulted in an unfortunate phenomenon. It has allowed Mrs. Palin to dismiss any criticism of her—no matter how straightforward—as yet more hostility from opponents, or as hoity-toity blather from inside-the-Beltway mopes.
This isn’t healthy. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty—all have already been through the wringer, and at the hands of conservatives focused on obtaining a competent nominee. If Mrs. Palin wants the most powerful job on the planet, she shouldn’t be averse to the same critical questioning.
Mrs. Palin’s strengths remain the very ones she displayed when John McCain first chose her as a running mate. She has practical executive experience as the governor of Alaska. She has a reformer’s instincts and a healthy skepticism of business-as-usual politics. She has a background that many Americans can identify with and is aided by her innate, and considerable, political skills.
She also has a lot of negatives, ones that she herself has created since 2008. Of all criticisms of Mrs. Palin back then, the most legitimate was that the relative political newcomer lacked knowledge and experience, in particular on foreign policy. A serious candidate, one who was determined to seize the frontrunner mantle in 2012, would’ve set about using the intervening years to bone up, to demonstrate accomplishments, and to build a team.
Mrs. Palin had a perfect perch from which to do this, as governor. She instead chose to quit that job and retreat to (let’s be honest) the easier occupation of private citizen. Rather than build a team, she has cast herself as a one-woman-show. Her supporters love this spunk, but the aggressive insularity—Sarah against the “establishment”—has also served to alienate many of the local political leaders and organizers necessary to build a nationwide campaign. That includes fund-raisers.
The stakes in 2012 are high. Mr. Obama is a sitting president. It will take a mighty GOP nominee (not to mention a lot of luck) to knock him off. Mrs. Palin would come into this race with little or no infrastructure, a near complete lack of a policy agenda, and eye-popping unfavorables. Nothing is impossible in politics, but her start is not encouraging.