Sarah Palin: Running in 2012, or just running for cover?
Why is Sarah Palin resigning almost two years before the end of her term in a move almost as shocking as Mark Sanford's downfall?
While I'm sure her stated family concerns are a legitimate worry of the admirably-doting mother, I will argue the following in this post: Palin's own quirkiness, ignorance and alternative reality; Alaskan politics; and the arguments of conservative pundits like Mary Matalin and William Kristol all suggest that Palin wants to run in 2012. This is not to say that she IS running. It is entirely possible, even likely, that she will write her books and give her speeches and then test the 2012 waters, only to discover that this move didn't play out the way she expected it to.
I'd like to believe her stated reasons for resigning, but they sound pretty thin: "Many [outgoing governors] just accept that lame-duck status, and they hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that." If one buys this reasoning, than all politicians who are not going to run for re-election should resign before their term is over, and that's a load of malarkey. Folks often complain that politicians are always running for re-election rather than governing, and now we're supposed to believe it's bad when they're not running? Moving along, her words about her son Trig were somewhat touching, and for perhaps only the second time in electoral politics I am slightly inclined to believe the family argument. But while I'm sure family is a real concern, it's clearly not the only thing on her mind, given that she also talked about helping her party in a new role. So what else is she thinking about?
The first thought that comes to mind for many is that, given how unorthodox and even bizarre this move is, perhaps a scandal is brewing and she's getting out of the way early. This is, for now, nothing more than a conspiracy theory. It might be logical, but there's no evidence to back it up, so I'm not going to play that game.
The second possibility is that she is preparing for a possible presidential bid in 2012. Pundits aren't so sure, arguing that the move may make such a run harder for her. I'll look at both sides of this debate and come down on the side of, she wants to run. Summing up the arguments of the nay-sayers is Politico's Jonathan Martin:
Many establishment GOP operatives and political commentators of various stripes were withering, both about the decision and the way she announced it — in a jittery, hyperkinetic news conference that rambled between self-congratulation and bitter accusations at the foes she says are eager to destroy her... Even if it's only the small stage of Alaska politics she hopes to escape, skeptics say Friday’s events also diminished and perhaps even demolished what was left of her viability as a 2012 presidential candidate...
And as Slate's John Dickerson reminds us, this also leaves her with less than three years as Governor, hardly a solid response to critics who say she has little to no experience. Finally, I would add that it makes little sense to resign office this early to prepare for a run. The shadow primary (small Iowa speeches, backroom discussions, fundraising, etc.) hasn't even really begun. The PAC and major speech portion won't start until after the 2010 midterms. Usually when someone resigns to run, it's with less than a year to go, not 3.5 years with 2.5 of them before the main event.
It is important, however, to remember this: Sarah Palin makes up her own rules, and then assumes that everybody else plays by them, too. She doesn't live in the same political world as the rest of us. To her, this move just might make 2012-sense. To respond to Dickerson's point that she has no real experience, she thinks she does. Remember that foreign policy crack about Putin rearing his head and coming into our airspace?
A pro-2012 argument I haven't really seen elsewhere is that her popularity in Alaska is sliding. Sure, a 54% approval rating ain't bad, but this is down drastically from a 2007 rating of over 90%, and doesn't compare very favorably with that of fellow-Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's 76%. With a 35% drop already, where is the floor? Could it be as low as 40%? Unpopularity at home always makes national voters uneasy, and this move might be coming just in time to save that required hometown image.
Conservative pundits Mary Matalin and Bill Kristol (who is a, Palin's biggest backer, and b, a nitwit who never ceases to amaze me) both had good things to say about the resignation. According to the New York Times, "Mary Matalin, a top Republican consultant, called Ms. Palin’s move 'brilliant' although she said she was initially taken aback by the news. But she seconded the notion that the governor’s decision was smart in the sense that it will free her up, as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been, to travel the country to make inroads with potential voters." The Weakly Standard's Kristol (or is it Kristol's Weakly Standard?) agrees:
She's freeing herself from the duties of the governorship. Now she can do her book, give speeches, travel the country and the world, campaign for others, meet people, get more educated on the issues - and without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska. I suppose she'll take a hit for leaving the governorship early - but how much of one? She's probably accomplished most of what she was going to get done as governor, and is leaving a sympatico [sic] lieutenant governor in charge.
And haven't conservatives been lamenting the lack of a national leader? Well, now she'll try to be that.
As argued above, I don't buy the argument that leaving office this early helps a politician on the campaign trail (see: Hart 1988, Bradley 2000, Romney 2008, Edwards 2008), but clearly some do. Perhaps Palin, like Matalin and Kristol, is one of them. My conclusion, then, is that resigning now hurts Palin's 2012 chances, but that she still did it to help them.
Palin's repeated responses to any and all reporters who ask her harsh questions or criticize her shows me that she has the thinnest skin of any major politician right now. To be fair, many of the criticisms are over-the-top sensationalism, but a national figure has to expect that, and the tough questions about complex issues are only fair. And yet, this woman seems to believe that anyone who dares criticize or disagree with her is an unAmerican idiot. This narrow-minded arrogance will be her ultimate downfall. Although it is way too early to make such guesses, my own no-money-on-the-table-quite-yet prediction is that the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2012 will be Mitt Romney.