The Right-Wing War Against Sarah Palin

Over the last few weeks, Washington conventional wisdom has begun to coalesce around the idea that Sarah Palin won't run for president. A number of news outlets and commentators have pointed out that she isn't doing the sorts of things that serious candidates usually do at this point in the calendar, hiring veteran staffers in the key early primary states, visiting those states regularly, and delivering speeches that begin to lay one's "vision" for the country. Roger Ailes of Fox News pointedly did not suspend her contract, as he did those of two other candidates, because, he said, she has given no sign that she is planning a campaign.

All of this is true--and yet strikes me as mostly beside the point. Palin is the furthest thing from a traditional candidate, so why would anyone expect her to behave like one? She may or may not run. But attempting to divine her plans by reading the tea leaves makes a lot less sense with Palin than it does with establishment figures like, say, Mitch Daniels or Haley Barbour. It should go without saying--shouldn't it?--that if Palin decides to get in the race six months from now, she'll hardly lack for name recognition and won't have any problem raising money. She's as viable as anybody, and more viable than most.

A lot of high-powered conservatives must agree with this assessment, because they're expending an awful lot of energy urgently insisting that a Palin candidacy would be terrible for the movement. The latest example of Palin-bashing comes this morning in Politico, which has arrayed a murderer's row of conservative intellectuals, from George Will to Charles Krauthammer to Pete Wehner to, um, Matt Labash* to scold and correct anyone who might harbor the heretical view that Palin has a right to seek her party's nomination and might in fact bring energy and enthusiasm to what is shaping up as a torpid GOP field.

It's not hard to understand what these conservative intellectuals are trying to accomplish: They genuinely believe that a Palin candidacy would be disastrous, for their party and likely for their own influence over that party**. Even Ailes seems to be undermining her, according to Gabriel Sherman in New York. But what puzzles me is who, exactly, the audience is supposed to be for comments like these from Krauthammer ("When populism becomes purely anti-intellectual it can become unhealthy and destructive") and Will ("This is a problem for the movement. For conservatism, because it is a creedal movement, this is a disease to which it is susceptible").

In the abstract, I don't disagree with either statement. But arguing that anti-intellectualism represents a danger to the conservative movement seems a strange tactic when most Republicans in Congress profess not to believe in global warming and when some large portion of the conservative base thinks that the president was born in darkest Africa. Selectively applying that argument to Palin--and to Palin alone--strikes me mostly as futile, both in the sense that it will be unpersuasive to the conservative base and also in the sense that it will have the desired effect on Palin herself. When has disapproval from establishment Republicans stopped her in the past? And especially from conservative intellectuals? If the goal here is to intimidate Palin into staying on the sidelines, it seems to me the likelier effect is that it will goad her into entering the race.

*I kid because I love! Buy his great book here.
**An exception for Labash, who would flourish like Picasso in his Blue Period if Palin were to run.

Drop-down thumbnail credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters