Friday, in an article on Politico, the argument is advanced that Palin cannot win. This narrative has long been the snide assertion of the left, but it’s also become an increasing mantra being put forward by Republican pundits and strategists who are generally supporting other candidates, or are thoroughly in bed with one. Bearing in mind this bias against objectivity in editorializing and reporting, it would probably be a worthwhile exercise to assess how accurate these predictions are likely to be. If Politico’s writer Alexander Burns is correct, Sarah Palin might as well quit, in line with the position of Rove and Morris, but if he’s wrong, and I’m inclined to believe he is, then Palin remains not only a viable candidate but also a candidate with a number of advantages to be considered along our path to the elections of November 2012.
The first thing that Burns points out is that among Republicans, and Republican-leaning independents, Palin is regarded by two-fifths as unelectable. To this, I would respond simply: First, throw out the Republican-leaners. They don’t vote in primaries in most states, or they wouldn’t be independents. Second, the reliable likely Republican primary voters is apt to be a good deal more conservative than the polling data’s fuzzy delineation represents. The data reveals that some movement is actually possible, at least enough to win the GOP nomination, and this is the first object of any campaign. One’s inability to get all the Republican votes in a primary really isn’t a valid test of one’s suitability for a general campaign. As a counterpoint to the conclusions Burns has reached, one might do well to take a look instead at what Gary P. Jackson has to say on the matter. His is an excellent analysis of Palin’s real electoral prospects. Like Reagan, Palin enjoys a substantial lead in favorability in the key swing state of Ohio. Looking at the way Reagan won in the 1980 primary season, it’s easier to understand how it could be true that Palin is just as apt as any to win not only the nomination, but also a general election campaign.
If we admit that there is a path for Palin to the nomination, then the question of her electability suddenly loses its punch. This is because the electorate will find itself faced with the probability of a continuing stagnation or decline, and the prospect of choosing between a Sarah Palin presidency and that of another four years of what has been a largely failed presidency. Under continued or increasing economic duress, you might well expect the former Alaska governor to begin knocking down questions of her suitability for office, and general election voters, considering their available alternatives to begin to agree. More, Palin has matured as a national figure, and has made herself much more familiar with the intricacies of issues of national import on a level of detail many candidates simply don’t possess. In all probability, it would ride in large measure on her performance in Presidential debates late in 2012. If she substantially holds her own, or is viewed even marginally as the victor, it’s very likely that she would find herself victorious in November.
One of the other themes being covered widely, but particularly on Politico, is that late entries are faced with a number of obstacles. While this is true, the late entry is also a frequently successful approach to Presidential victory. Reagan, Clinton, and Bush were all late entrants. There is a definite advantage in being last, with significant name recognition, and this is another way in which Palin is well-placed for victory.
Setting aside Burns’ previously demonstrated preference for Romney among the current candidates, it’s easy to see why he’s concerned, because while Palin is a principled conservative, she is not unaccustomed to working with Democrats and independents in pursuit of common sense solutions to pressing problems. That’s her actual record, and if she’s able to demonstrate that, it not only makes a general election campaign winnable, but increases the chances that she will capture some significant portion of Romney’s voters as he continues to fade. As the GOP nomination campaign consolidates, it would likely come down to just two candidates, as Michele Bachmann is sliding now with the entry of Perry. This presents a great opportunity for Palin, and one she will likely have known in withholding an announcement as long as she has.
If one listens to the punditry in DC media, one would think the campaign is all but over, but common sense and a little closer examination of the polling data definitely suggests otherwise. Palin is known for running underfunded campaigns to great success, and she also has the ability to raise money, as much is still being withheld as people wait for the Republican field to settle. Some of it would certainly settle out in her campaign coffers, and some would go to the anti-Palin vote, but if voters begin to consolidate around a common sense conservative, none will be surprised. Part of the narrative since 2008 has been to paint Palin as a radical right winger, and while it is certainly true to say that she is conservative, she is no more conservative than Ronald Reagan, a president who is still revered in the Republican electorate, and among voters in general. While not a perfect analogy, it’s accurate to say that she has history on her side, even if it’s not something the establishment pundits wish to tell you as they struggle to understand the Tea Party phenomenon. What causes them confusion with that political development is the same thing that causes them to misjudge Sarah Palin’s appeal. Much as in the closing months of 1979 and into 1980, it’s nearly time for the establishment to learn.