Reagan, Palin And That Vanity Fair Palin Story

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Lots of buzz today about my my friend Todd Purdum's story on Sarah Palin in the new issue of Vanity Fair. The story's a good reminder of the still enduring role of the monthly magazine in the age of blogs and Twitter. By going over ground that was not exactly unfamiliar--the contempt that McCain staffers felt toward their charge, the governor of Alaska--Purdum was able to find the new in the well-trod, the headline amidst what seemed to be an old story. The level of vitriol and consternation expressed toward Palin is remarkable and so is the extent to which the senior officials of the McCain campaign were continually amazed by her lack of knowledge and her audacity. She tried to make her own concession speech on election night, something that veep candidates never do, and after refusing to take no for an answer from top McCain aides, had to be told no by the Arizona Senator himself.

Will all of this matter as the presidential campaign of 2012 begins to move forward? It will if Palin continues to annoy any number of fellow Republicans. But you also have to wonder if there isn't a huge capacity for forgiveness in the Republican Party for candidates who get facts wrong but embrace what are seen as simple truths. Ronald Reagan got bashed as a simpleton with a messy family life--grandchildren he didn't know, kids who didn't speak to him, etc.--but his basic adherence to conservative principle was enough to guide him to the presidency and to reelection. Palin lacks Reagan's decades long dedication to the conservative principles or his exceptional skills as a communicator. But I wonder whether a piece like this will really hurt Palin in the long run or, in some ways, strengthen her with those who matter most in the GOP. The derision of elites is a calling card, even if it's the elites in one's own party. Of course, Reagan was loved by the party base and many of its elites, too, like William F. Buckley and the National Review. Palin seems on thinner ice, to use a bad Arctic metaphor. But I think as the national GOP continues to founder and other stars in the party like Mark Sanford either burn out or fade, like Bobby Jindal, Palin seems like a troubled but surprisingly enduring brand, one that I can't wait to see engage with Newt Gingrich, the party's self-styled intellectual. Gingrich is as in sync intellectually with the conservative base of the party as is Palin, but he's thrice married and that may prove less appealing to the party's remaining evangelical core. His recent conversion to Catholicism will provide an interesting contrast to Palin's fundamentalism.

A piece like Purdum's reminds us of Palin's obvious flaws, but is the Vanity Fair readership picking the next Republican nominee?

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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