Going rogue has one principal benefit: it draws attention. But
she would never have lacked for that, and following the established
course of a presumed front-runner would have given her a number of
To begin with, she'd probably be leading in the
polls. After the 2008 election, Palin was the GOP's hottest commodity, a
bona fide sensation who had captivated a party brought low by George W.
Bush. Had she taken on the role of leader-in-waiting, she would have
been difficult to challenge. Instead, she kept everyone guessing and let
other candidates emerge, and, in Romney's case, overtake her.
greatest vulnerability is the impression that she's erratic. A
well-orchestrated campaign like the one that Karl Rove rolled out for
Bush ahead of the 2000 primaries could have mollified some skeptics.
Like Palin, Bush was regarded as callow and not quite up to the job.
Those doubts mostly vanished after a carefully arranged regimen of
policy conferences, thematic speeches, and personal appeals to major GOP
donors. By contrast, Palin's support among Republicans has declined
steadily since the last election. As her bus zigzags between national
landmarks, trailed by an army of reporters mystified about her plans and
intentions, she seems more erratic than ever.
while drawing attention to her, probably won't draw many new supporters
because it appeals to precisely those people who are already on her
side, people who intensely dislike the White House and the media, who
adore her spontaneous engagement with the people, and who care little
about matters of qualification and temperament. To win, she'll need more
Although the press is loath to admit it, a disciplined
campaign can drive a message and thereby shape how it is covered. More
than a decade on, many Americans can still recall Bush's theme of
compassionate conservatism. Palin, too, has a message, although it has
been lost amid the chaos and confusion she is stirring up. She'd like to
focus on her record as governor of Alaska, where she took on the
powerful oil and gas industry and helped clean up a corrupt legislature
(a theme of the forthcoming movie).
A professional operation with
strategists and surrogates and talking points could have amplified a
compelling message. How many people know, for example, that Palin's
major accomplishment as governor, reforming the state's oil-tax
structure, is largely responsible for creating Alaska's $12 billion
budget surplus? Or that, at a time when the US credit rating could
actually be cut, Moody's recently raised Alaska's rating to AAA, citing
its fiscal health?
Before he decided not to run, Indiana governor
Mitch Daniels had made fiscal probity the centerpiece of his incipient
campaign and made himself a top-tier candidate. He did this despite the
fact that social conservatives distrust him and Indiana faces a $270 million budget shortfall (and he still got to spend plenty of time on a Harley).
Palin's fiscal stewardship of Alaska should allow her to make a similar
argument, one that would build on her popularity with social
conservatives. Instead, what most people know about Palin's governorship
is that she abruptly quit it.