Monday, April 26, 2010


I tend to believe that Sarah Palin will run for president in 2012 -- but I have to say I'm not as certain as Andrew Sullivan. Nor do I think that she represents a momentous and unique evolutionary (or de-evolutionary) step in the Republican Party's development, as Sullivan does:

...The political parties are weaker than they once were. The elites cannot control grass-roots Internet-driven phenomena. Look at Obama. He seems a natural president now, but Washington dismissed his chances -- as they are now dismissing Palin's -- right up to the Iowa caucuses....

... what we have seen this past year is the collapse of the RNC as it once was and the emergence of a highly lucrative media-ideological-industrial complex. This complex has no interest in traditional journalistic vetting, skepticism, scrutiny of those in power, or asking the tough questions. It has no interest in governing a country. It has an interest in promoting personalities and ideologies and false images of a past America that both flatter and engage its audience....

Add Palin to the mix and you have a whole new machine in American politics -- one with the capacity, as much as Obama's, to upend the established order....

Sullivan thinks she's certain to run ("with that power and that potential funding, how can someone who said she wanted to be president as long ago as 1996 resist?"); I expect her to take a shot, but I think it's also possible she'll decide to be a perpetual possible candidate, a hot-mama Newt Gingrich whose speeches draw crowds (bigger than his) and whose words draw headlines, but who never ultimately runs. I just don't know. It could go either way.

I also don't buy the notion that there's Sarah Palin, rogue Net-based megastar, and then there's the rest of the GOP. The way I see it, Palin is just what every other top-level Republican is these days, only more so.

You say she talks exclusively in know-nothing talk radio soundbites? Well, isn't that more or less what every GOP presidential aspirant has begun to do, even if it means jettisoning positions held for years (hello, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty)?

You say she doesn't do media except for Fox News? Well, go read this Ross Douthat blog post. As he notes, the Republican right actually accomplished more in the Reagan years, before the rise of talk radio and Fox, than it has since then, when the right-wing media elevated Gingrich and then Bush -- both of whom utterly failed at governance. It's as if the wingers aren't even bothering to engage the rest of the country apart for the right-wing base (remember Bush's base-only 2004 campaign?), to their ultimate detriment -- and that's just like Palin, except that her exclusivity is more absolute.

The party has ceased to be (as John Podhoretz, quoted by Douthat, puts it) "bilingual" -- Republicans don't even try to talk in the language of the center and left. So when 2012 rolls around, there won't be one Palin running for president -- there'll probably be a dozen. They'll all talk like her. They'll all snark off at liberals and Democrats like her. They'll all call Obama a totalitarian socialist, just like her. In the primary season, they may even all try to blow off the non-right-wing media, just like her -- they'll certainly all express contempt for it.

And that's a big reason why the nomination isn't hers to lose -- she's going to be joined at the fringe by her primary opponents. Because that's the message of the entire modern GOP, not just its Wasilla branch.

(And yes, I realize I should have used the phrase "epistemic closure" in here somewhere.)

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