Sunday, September 19, 2010


It's hard to believe that Sarah Palin is the inevitable 2012 presidential GOP nominee when you look at what she did and didn't do in Iowa. Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I've never thought of Palin as inevitable -- yet I'm still not ready to go to the other extreme and join the she-won't-run crowd:

When politicians accept speech invitations at party occasions, particularly outings like the annual Ronald Reagan Dinner, they often do a host of behind-the-scenes events. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. But Ms. Palin declined to do any additional appearances. Instead, she went for a run....

There are few more sophisticated or demanding political audiences than in Iowa or New Hampshire, where the road to the White House traditionally begins. It is often not the speeches that are most remembered, but rather the face-to-face time where a voter can shake a visiting candidate's hand, ask a question and get a gut-level feeling about whether he -- or she -- would make a good president.

This is why many Republicans are not at all convinced that Ms. Palin is running. Whether she should is a subject many Iowans politely declined to discuss, but there was widespread agreement that should she decide to, she would have to do it the Iowa way.

"One speech is not enough to make a run in Iowa," said Mary Ann Hanusa, a Republican from Council Bluffs, who is making her own bid for the Statehouse. "We pay attention to the candidates and ask very tough questions when we meet with them."

I don't think it means she's not running. I think it means that, like a sullen teenager, she resents being told she has to do anything she doesn't feel like doing, even if it would get her closer to a goal she seeks. I'm sticking with my theory that she'll run -- but she'll insist on doing it "her way," and she'll imagine that not doing the tedious grunt work is somehow "radical," a tea party-esque challenge to the status quo.

If she really never intends to go to Iowa and kiss the rings of the voters, she's toast. The Christian conservatives who make up a disproportionate share of Iowa's GOP would be a great fit for her, and political observers know that, so if she loses there because she won't do retail politics precisely when and how the voters expect her to, that's going to make her look like 2012's Giuliani or Thompson. And then she won't win in non-crazy, non-God-bothering New Hampshire, one of Romney's home states. So she'll be through.

Her fifth-place finish in the Values Voter Summit straw poll doesn't bode well for her, either. This seems like another example of Palin blowing off a potentially receptive crowd just because she felt like it. She clearly believes in following her gut, even if it means passing up chances to court voters who are well worth courting. I think she can go much further than a lot of people expect while passing up opportunities to pick up support, just because she has a huge cult and it's going to be a crowded field (which means she won't need huge percentages to win early primaries). But right now she looks as if she's going way too far in the direction of "I won't do what you tell me."

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