We live in serious times. We face a huge fiscal crisis, both now and in the long-term. We are experiencing a frustratingly slow pace of job creation. Middle class families are not doing much better than they were a decade ago. The threats to our national security are not going away. And to top it all off, state finances are in shambles and will create an additional burden for policymakers in Washington that we are only now coming to terms with. The United States of America faces the greatest combined threat to our future prosperity and stability than we have faced since the 1930s - at least.
For these reasons, we need a strong, serious, decisive leader on the Republican ticket in 2012.
Let's face it. Sarah Palin is clearly not that leader.
She's fun. She's attractive. She's appealing. She's down-home. She's got a populist vibe. She shoots animals. But she's not presidential timber. Not in times like these.
Now, she took some highly unfair criticism in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, and she was roundly defended by many smart commentators. But then she waded into the controversy the day of the President's speech and couldn't help but to bring the attention back to herself.
And this is the problem with Sarah Palin. There is often no other story about her than...her.
We live in consequential, even treacherous, times, and if Palin's serious about becoming President, she needs to address the nation with ideas, solutions, and the sobriety our times require, not with "WTFs" or other gimmicks aimed at getting attention. Otherwise, she should step aside.
Because of her popularity, many have been afraid to say openly about her what they whisper in private. But a few brave souls have stepped out and said about Sarah Palin what others think but are unwilling to say.
We call this group the Truth Tellers - it's hard to argue with their statements about Sarah Palin. See below for what they have said about her. Here's a summary of the main points:
- Palin is unserious about ideas and doesn't seem to care much about providing clear, decisive leadership on the biggest issues facing America. It's hard to find much evidence to the contrary. Can her supporters provide compelling evidence to refute this? We have looked, and we can't find the evidence. Other than a smart QE2 statement that the Wall Street Journal applauded, there's not much there.
- There is no obvious route for her to the White House. Have any of her supporters mapped out how she wins in a way that's half-way believable? We're not sure there is one. We take Roger Simon's point under advisement - that it is too soon to rule Sarah out - but so far, it's not clear how she wins. Someone needs to build a good case before we'll change our minds, because we sure don't see it.
- Instead of replying to detractors with presidential aplomb or directing the public discussion away from criticism to a positive view of the future, she is alienating and even defensive. Some may think this a subjective assessment, but it's hard to argue with the charge that she spends far too much time dueling with the media or using the media to duel with others than to present any positive vision of the future. Whatever their flaws, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels have all carved out identities based on specific ideas, policy, and vision. What is Sarah Palin's vision? What are her ideas? Can anyone convincingly answer those questions?
So let's take a look at the Truth Tellers in their own words:
In his column in the New York Times, Ross Douthat compared Palin's relationship with the media to a dysfunctional marriage, and that the way she presents herself in statements and online posts is often self indulgent and superficial:
Palin...officially despises the “lamestream” media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves. She supposedly hates having her privacy invaded, yet her family keeps showing up on reality TV. She thinks the political class is clueless and out-of-touch, but she can’t resist responding to its every provocation. Her public rhetoric, from “death panels” to “blood libel,” is obviously crafted to maximize coverage and controversy, and generate more heat than light. And her Twitter account reads like a constant plea for the most superficial sort of media attention.
Douthat went on to offer her some advice:
To Palin: You were an actual politician once (remember that?), but you’re becoming the kind of caricature that your enemies have always tried to make of you. So maybe it’s time to turn off your iPad for a while, and take a break from Facebook and Fox News. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to every criticism, and you might even win a few more admirers if you cultivated a lighter touch and a more above-the-fray persona. Oh, and when that reality-TV producer sends you a pitch for “Sarah Plus Five Plus Kate Plus Eight,” just say no.
Former House Speaker and potential 2012 candidate Newt Gingrich in an interview on ABC's Good Morning America said Palin needs show more tact in her statements:
I think that she has got to slow down and be more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it.
On Anderson Coopers 360, former White House Press Secretary Ari Feischer commented that while she has proved to be very successful in mobilizing the GOP base, she has yet to demonstrate she has the substance to take her political ambitions to the next level:
Sarah Palin is tremendously popular within an element of the Republican Party. And the trick to making it in American politics is, you have got to start strong in your base and being able expanding over the middle. She's yet to be able to prove that she can take that second step. It's an important second step, if she's going to have greater credibility and -- and any advancement in politics.
Charles Krauthammer, in response to a round table discussion on potential GOP nominees, said he doubts Palin’s strength as a candidate:
What do you mean if not Sarah Palin in 2012? Who’s saying she’s going to be the presidential candidate? I don’t even hear her saying it. Her chances of being are smaller than half a dozen other people. If you talk to Republicans, I don’t think there are what, more than one in three who would tell you she has a chance of winning the presidency or even the nomination….And she is not the favorite…she has a very strong core constituency but outside of that I think she is rather weak.
Krauthammer has also previously commented about the weak nature of her impact:
She is — she has star power without any doubt. She has an extremely devoted following. But she is not a serious candidate for the presidency. She had to go home and study and spend a lot of time on issues in which she was not adept last year, and she hasn't. She has to stop speaking in clichés and platitudes. It won't work. It could work for eight weeks if you're the number two candidate, as she was last year. But even so, she got singed a lot in that campaign. You cannot sustain a campaign of platitudes and clichés over a year and a half if you're running for the presidency.
…Jonathan Tobin concurred with Krauthammer’s assessment via Commentary Magazine:
Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else. Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president. So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.
…while Pete Wehner, a former Bush official, agreed with Tobin’s appraisal:
If his words cause this kind of bristling, defensive response from her, she is simply unprepared to endure a presidential run, quite apart from her disquieting (and quite striking) inability to engage in a serious discussion about policy. Virtually every time Ms. Palin speaks out, she reinforces some of the worst impressions or deepest concerns many of us have about her. If she were to become the voice and representative of the GOP and the modern conservatism movement, both would suffer a massive rejection. Sarah Palin will not be elected president; and for her sake, I hope she decides not to run.
Republican strategist John Feehery, a contributor to The Hill's Pundits Blog, called her out on her lack of credibility:
It was Abraham Lincoln who said that “it is better to be silent and be thought a fool than it is to speak up and remove all doubt.” Palin, the more she speaks out on topics like this, the more she is removing all doubt."
George Will on ABC’s This Week also weighed in on Palin’s lack of relevant experience:
She had to go home to Alaska and study, and she had to govern Alaska well. Instead, she quit halfway through her first term and shows up in the audience of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and other distinctly non-presidential venues.
What man or mouse with a fully functioning human brain and a résumé as thin as Palin’s would flirt with a presidential run? It makes the political biography of Barack Obama look more like Winston Churchill’s. Adding audacity to this dopey dream is that Palin can’t stop herself from taking swings at Republican giants. In the past month alone, she has mocked Ronald Reagan’s credentials, dismissed George H.W. and Barbara Bush as arrogant ‘blue bloods’ and blamed George W. Bush for wrecking the economy. Wow. That’ll win ’em over in Iowa.
David Frum, in an entertaining comparison, likened her presence on the political stage to a piano, dangerously “dangling” over the Republican party’s head:
Imagine you’re at the circus. On the ground is a poodle performing a stunt. Above the clown’s head, dangling from a thin wire, is a piano. The piano is teetering, tottering, looking as if at any moment it might slip, crash to earth, and crush the dog. Impossible not to watch, right? And that’s the Palin show, only this time with the party of Lincoln as the little dog, and Sarah Palin as the piano.
While Mona Charen on NRO, in response to Palin’s war with the media, said “give her a TV show, not the presidency":
Palin compares herself to Reagan. But Reagan didn’t mud-wrestle with the press. Palin seems consumed and obsessed by it, as her rapid Twitter finger attests, and thus she encourages the sniping. She should be presiding over meetings on oil and gas leases in the North Slope, or devising alternatives to Obamacare. Every public spat with Dave Letterman or Politico, or the “lamestream media,” or (God help us) Levi Johnston, diminishes her.
Charen, while paying credit to Palin’s strengths, goes on to add:
Palin has many strengths. I admire her fortitude and her principles…She would be terrific as a talk-show host — the new Oprah. But a presidential candidate? Someone to convince critical independent voters that Republicans can govern successfully? Absolutely not.
In a Daily Beast post entitled “Sarah, Don’t Run,” while also giving her credit for her “phenomenal" leverage of the spotlight, Mark McKinnon added:
If Palin runs, I think the entire Republican primary process will be hijacked. With ardent fans and a rabid media, it will become Palin-palooza. A celebrity fest will follow with even more amplitude than the adulation and adoration that surrounded Barack Obama, who was so revered he was sometimes referred to in biblical proportions as “The One.” An all-consuming super nova, Palin will suck the oxygen out of every room, everywhere she goes. And one of two things will happen. Discerning conservative voters in early primary states will be offended by the circus-like atmosphere and the presumption that they could so easily fall for a “cult of personality.” And they will vote against her. And she will lose. Or, Republican voters will be completely swept up in the mania and nominate her as the GOP standard bearer to go up against President Obama. And she will lose—by a greater margin than any other Republican nominee who would run – and lose – in 2012.
And in reply to Palin’s snide response to interview questions at the expense of Ronald Reagan, Peggy Noonan urged Americans to vote for maturity (i.e. not Sarah Palin), comparing the former Governor of Alaska to a “nincompoop”:
You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can't just bully them, you can't just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade. Americans don't want, as their representatives, people who seem empty or crazy. They'll vote no on that. It's not just the message, it's the messenger.
Although a more moderate Republican, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has a notoriously strained relationship with the former Governor, said of her skills:
I just do not think she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual policy, that allows for building good and great policies. You know, she was my governor for two years, for just about two years there, and I don't think that she enjoyed governing. I don't think she liked to get down into the policy. I want someone who goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning thinking about how we're going to deal with" key issues.
Former First Lady, Barbara Bush politely offered her opinion:
I sat next to her once. Thought she was beautiful. And she's very happy in Alaska, and I hope she'll stay there.
In an interview with The Telegraph, responding to Palin’s recent aspirations for reality TV stardom, Karl Rove said of her 2012 bid:
Being the vice-presidential nominee on the ticket is different from saying 'I want to be the person at the top of the ticket,'" Rove continued. "There are high standards that the American people have for [the presidency] and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say 'that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world."
Daniel Larison in The American Conservative Magazine, cited her as a very “polarized” and isolating candidate:
[“S]he is not favorably viewed by all Republicans…As it is, she has just 66% favorability with self-identified Tea Party supporters, and she is supposed to be one of their political heroes. If she can’t even consolidate all of the Tea Party’s approximately 18% of the vote, why does anyone think she can win at least a third of the vote in primaries that she will need to get the nomination? If she did somehow pull it off, Democrats would spend most of the summer and fall of 2012 rubbing their eyes in disbelief at their good fortune. Even in a fairly polarized national electorate where McCain/Palin could manage to get 47% of the vote in the midst of a financial meltdown at the tail end of the second term of one of the three most unpopular post-war Presidents, a ticket headed by Palin would be hard-pressed to break 40%. Palin as the nominee would probably make 2012 the most lopsided election victory for the incumbent President since 1984.
The Truth Tellers have spoken. If Sarah Palin wanted to be presidential, she might take the critiques to heart and begin to fashion arguments and a strategy that give voters the confidence she can lead the country. If she cannot do that, she should stay on the sidelines.
It's worth closing by noting, as Paul Begala has said, Democrats would love nothing more than to have "more Sarah Palin." Recent polling shows that many liberals hope Palin will continue her presidential bid. One example of this point: PrimariesforPalin.com encourages non-Republican voters to support Palin during GOP primaries because “in head-to-head polls” Palin consistently fares worse than President Obama.
Let's go America. Let's move beyond Sarah Palin. Our times demand it.
If you are a Truth Teller, or want to recommend a commentator who is, email us here.