“Palin” Is Grizzlie For “Mondale”

Andy Barr and Jonathan Martin at Politico:

It was nothing more than a two-minute self-promotional spot, a campaign-style production that any candidate with a little cash and a capable consultant could splice together, yet Sarah Palin’s newly-released video managed to drive cable news television chatter and blazed across the blogosphere Thursday.

It was a remarkable display of force—and one that almost no one else in American political life can replicate.

The spot, scored with upbeat music designed to underscore Palin’s message of conservative female empowerment and the idea of a grassroots awakening, may not be enough to rehabilitate her polarizing profile in time for a 2012 presidential bid.

But the effect reinforced the notion that she remains perhaps the most electric force in the Republican Party, and suggested she is taking steps to professionalize her approach and solidify her role as the conservative movement’s most prized endorser and fundraiser.

Sarah Palin’s political action committee, Sarah PAC, has produced its first web video of the season, called “Mama Grizzlies.” As a rule, this column does not generally notice web videos, but this one is special. It’s … well, an advertisement, if you will, for brand Sarah, and the variant of brand Sarah that’s gaining currency in the Tea Party heartlands, her fiercely independent, common-sense conservative, not-gonna-let-the-government-win Mama Grizzlies. It’s a movement now. The video features Palin and women, and signs about Palin and women (Moms Against Mandates) and is set against the narration from a speech Palin gave in Washington last month.

Palin’s preoration is about November, 2010, but it is hard to read this video as anything but a test of a much larger potential operation. Incidentally, for those who wonder about whether Palin is actually laying the groundwork for a 2012 run, like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, the answer is: it’s hard to tell. She’s not recruiting fundraisers, so far as we know … she’s not signing up field activists in Iowa … she’s definitely building a list, and she’s definitely making strategic endorsement choices in some key states, and she’s showing up with regularity in South Carolina and Nevada …

David Frum at FrumForum:

Here’s Sarah Palin’s new ad. Lots of images of the former governor speaking to adoring crowds, meeting admirers, encountering women and children.

But here’s the remarkable thing. Republicans normally work hard to ensure that their ads feature non-white faces, to present an image of welcome and inclusion.

[…]

In Palin’s ad — not one. Now listen carefully to the audio, which twice warns of a “fundamental transformation of America,” twice emphasizes a threat to children and grandchildren from malign unnamed forces.

I think she’s talking about healthcare. I hope so. But she never does say so.

UPDATE: I stand corrected by Twitter follower SJ Duffield: an Indian-American woman is visible in background at 45 seconds.

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–>Daniel Larison:

We have good reason to expect that the 2012 Republican field will be large and support will once again be fairly evenly divided. This might give Palin a better chance than she would have otherwise, but many of her likely rivals are going to be going after the same voters who view Palin favorably. For that matter, she is not favorably viewed by all Republicans. That leaves a huge opening for a more credible, electable candidate to pull together some fraction of conservatives together with the primary anti-Palin vote. As it is, she has just 66% favorability with self-identified Tea Party supporters, and she is supposed to be one of their political heroes. If she can’t even consolidate all of the Tea Party’s approximately 18% of the vote, why does anyone think she can win at least a third of the vote in primaries that she will need to get the nomination?

If she did somehow pull it off, Democrats would spend most of the summer and fall of 2012 rubbing their eyes in disbelief at their good fortune. Even in a fairly polarized national electorate where McCain/Palin could manage to get 47% of the vote in the midst of a financial meltdown at the tail end of the second term of one of the three most unpopular postwar Presidents, a ticket headed by Palin would be hard-pressed to break 40%. Palin as the nominee would probably make 2012 the most lopsided election victory for the incumbent President since 1984.

Steve Kornacki at Salon, pivoting off Larison:

But the example of ’84 is worth looking a little closer at, because it shows how Palin — or a candidate as potentially disastrous as her — could theoretically manage to win the Republican nomination.

In hindsight, nominating Walter Mondale was political suicide for the Democrats. He had been the loyal vice-president in the administration that voters had drummed out of office just four years earlier in a 44-state landslide. And with his decades in Washington and subservience to his party’s labor union base, he personified the governing culture that the Reagan “revolution” sought to overthrow.

By making Mondale their standard-bearer, Democrats handed Reagan’s media team the opponent of their dreams. With Mondale, the brutal last line of the famous “Morning in America” ad literally wrote itself: “Why would we ever want to go back to where we were less than four short years ago?” In the end, only a slim 3,000-vote victory in his home state of Minnesota spared Mondale the indignity of losing all 50 states.

To understand why Democrats ever picked Mondale, you have to understand where the party — and where the country — was in 1982 and 1983, when the nation’s verdict on Reagan and his policies was far less positive. In those days, with unemployment surging over 10 percent and the president’s popularity slipping to sub-Carter levels, Democrats mistakenly assumed that the ’80 election had been a mirage. The electorate, they figured, had acted in haste and was rapidly returning to its senses. The results of the 1982 midterms, when Republicans (who had begun the cycle with claims that they’d win back the House) lost 26 House seats, only encouraged this thinking. To these Democrats, putting up Mondale made all the sense in the world.

Of course, there were voices in the Democratic Party calling for reform — the “Atari Democrats” of the early ’80s (Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas and so on). But in the wake of the ’82 midterms, they were a minority voice in the party. Hart ended up running for president in ’84 and nearly tripped Mondale up. By the summer of ’84, it was clear that Hart would fare better — much better — against Reagan than Mondale. The same polls that had Mondale losing by nearly 20 points showed Hart trailing by single digits. But Mondale had too much establishment weight behind him at that point and held off Hart’s late push at the convention.

The relevance to Palin is obvious: Like Mondale in ’84, she would represent to the general election audience of 2012 just about everything they’d rejected in 2008 (and 2006). In nominating her, Republicans would be saying to the country, “We have learned nothing these last four years. We have changed nothing.” Moreover, today’s GOP calls to mind the Democratic Party of ’82 and ’83: an aggrieved, resurgent base asserting itself after an electoral drubbing, believing with all its might that inevitable midterm blues facing the new president mean more than they actually do.  That is the environment that produced Walter Mondale in 1984. And it’s the environment that could produce a similar debacle for Republicans in 2012.

Larison responds:

Indeed, they have learned nothing during the last four years, and they haven’t really changed much of anything, so Palin would be a good fit with the party’s leaders and activists for that reason, but I remain skeptical that they are really prepared to go down in flames out of little more than pride and spite. I won’t rehearse all of the reasons I have given before why I doubt the GOP would be so self-destructive as to nominate Palin, but there still seem to be too many structural reasons why someone occupying Palin’s political space cannot succeed in a Republican primary contest. The comparison with Mondale is instructive. Palin and Mondale are alike in that they represent the face of the party as it was when it was defeated, but they are quite different in their sources of support. Mondale was the candidate of the party establishment and important interest groups, and Palin has made a point of aligning herself with every possible anti-establishment, insurgent campaign she can find.

While there are some Washington pundits and journalists on the right that continue to take her seriously, she isn’t likely to have the insider support or backing from party leaders. That space is already being filled by Romney, who also enjoys the status of default frontrunner. Despite her positioning as a “populist” insurgent, she seems uninterested in building an organization to challenge better-funded, better-organized rivals, and she is quite unsuited to running as a party reformer brimming with innovative policy ideas. Her positioning as an insurgent puts her at a particular disadvantage in Republican primaries, which tend to favor runners-up and establishment favorites. Because of their overconfidence and their extremely low opinion of Obama, Republicans may end up nominating a Mondale-like candidate in 2012, but I still have a hard time seeing how Palin gets there. In many ways, Romney has a much easier path to the nomination, and he has just reminded everyone why he would be a spectacularly unsuccessful general election candidate.

Jonathan Bernstein on Kornacki:

I agree with Steve Kornacki that Sarah Palin would be a potentially disastrous candidate for the Republicans in 2012.  People really don’t like her, and it’s difficult to see how that turns around; moreover, she gives every indication of being a massively subpar candidate, unable or unwilling to learn enough about public policy to avoid a new series of damaging gaffes.

Kornacki’s jump from there to Walter Mondale in 1984, however, doesn’t really work.  Yes, Mondale got clobbered — but he was clobbered by a popular incumbent president boosted by a strong economy.  Under those circumstances, it didn’t really matter who the Dems ran; when the electorate is happy with the incumbent, there’s not very much the out-party can do about it.  In fact, I happen to have a tab open with a paper by Larry Bartels and John Zaller looking at the effects of economic and other variables on presidential election results, which shows not only that Reagan’s victory was exactly in line with the economic variables, but also that once all the objective variables are tossed in that Reagan actually slightly underperformed (see figures 3 and 4).  Now, one of the variables included in their analysis is ideological extremism, and I don’t know how they coded Mondale; presumably, a more moderate candidate would have done somewhat better.  However, the magnitude is pretty small; in the text, Baretls and Zaller single out Goldwater, McGovern, and Reagan (in 1980) as the three examples of ideologically extreme candidates, and estimate that such extremism costs about three percentage points.  So just on ideological grounds shifting from Mondale to, say, Gary Hart, might have been worth one point or so, maybe.

The rest of it?  Mondale was a perfectly fine candidate, in a year in which Democrats really had no chance.

Kornacki responds to Bernstein:

I don’t disagree that ’84 was a completely unwinnable election for the Democrats and that the reason was the economy and Reagan’s personal popularity. This is the reason I’ve been making so many comparisons between Obama’s ’12 prospects and the Reagan re-election campaign. Obama won’t be able to match Reagan’s 49-state landslide (it’s just not possible for a Democrat now), but if the economy rebounds in the next two years, voters will be eager to reward him — particularly so because of their personal affection for him. Under those conditions, it won’t matter if the GOP nominates Palin, Romney, Huckabee or anyone else: They will lose.

My point in invoking Mondale wasn’t that the Democrats of ’84 blew a chance at victory by nominating him. It was to explain the psychology that encouraged the party to field a candidate destined not just to lose, but to be eviscerated in a humiliating landslide. Remember: Without winning Minnesota, his home state, by a scant 3,761-vote margin, Mondale would have been the first and only major party nominee to lose all 50 states.

Bernstein suggests that Gary Hart, the main alternative to Mondale in the Democratic primaries, wouldn’t really have fared any differently. I disagree. No, Hart wouldn’t have won. And no, Hart wouldn’t have made it a nail-biter. But he would have done better. There are two reasons for this.

One is that Mondale was an unusually objectionable presidential nominee. To the Democratic base, he may have been a “perfectly fine” candidate, but not to swing voters. Mondale’s unfavorable scores with all voters — and with independent voters in particular — were alarmingly high. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest is that he reeked of Washington insiderdom and of the administration that voters had angrily tossed out four years earlier. His intimate and well-publicized ties to organized labor leaders, who had helped deliver him the nomination, didn’t help, either.

When, after a decent debate showing against a very wobbly Reagan, Mondale’s favorable score momentarily outpaced his unfavorable in polling, his campaign considered it a minor miracle.

Yes, as the economy improved in 1983 and 1984, Reagan’s victory became a foregone conclusion. But Mondale made for a ridiculously easy mark for the GOP — the embodiment of everything voters had revolted against in 1980.

Ken Silverstein at Harper’s:

Palin is not going to be the GOP’s next presidential or vice presidential nominee. She’s not going to be the former because she can’t win the nomination; the combined weight of the Tea Party wing and the Love-struck Horndog faction is powerful within the GOP, but not that powerful. She won’t be the latter because she’ll end up being a drag on the ticket, as John McCain discovered to his misfortune last year.

However unqualified she might be for high office, Palin is smart enough to know this. Palin is not even running for high office. She is running to get very, very rich and in that endeavor she will be enormously successful.

John Ellis:

Sarah Palin cranked up her 2012 presidential campaign another notch today, with the release of a campaign video aimed directly at women. The basic math is simple. If she gets half of the female primary voters and caucus attenders to support her, then she standing starts at roughly 25% of the total vote. Throw in a third of the male vote and she’s at roughly 40%. Forty percent wins the Iowa caucuses, handily.

Which then sets up New Hampshire as the place where the not-Sarah candidate emerges. In all likelihood, that will be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who finished second in NH in 2008 and who will spend whatever it takes to win there in 2012.

Assuming that the race is then reduced to Palin and Romney, the next critical state primary is South Carolina. At that point, I don’t think the specifics really matter. The fact is that the Republican Party of 2012 is not going to nominate a Mormon as its standard bearer. And the more important fact is that the base of the Republican Party doesn’t just favor Sarah Palin, they love her. She is their standard bearer. And they will not — this time around — be denied.

As the Republican avalanche of 2010 builds — and I saw a poll the other day of a Democratic-leaning state Senate district on Long Island where the “right track” (8%)/”wrong direction” (83%) was unlike anything I had ever seen — Palin has smartly positioned herself as the champion of the conservative counter-revolution. By December, she will almost certainly be the de facto front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

By the time the Establishment GOP wakes up to this reality, it may be too late for them to do anything about it. Their view of Palin is that she’s useful to the party because she can help keep “the Tea Party types inside the tent.” And maybe she can serve coffee while she’s at it. Palin’s view is that (1) “the Tea Party types” are the party, (2) she is their standard bearer and (3) anyone who thinks “the Tea Party types” are there to lick envelopes and knock on doors should think again. They’re there, she asserts, to take back their party and to take back their country.

“She’s too stupid” is what the Establishment GOP really thinks about Sarah Palin. “Good-looking,” but a “ditz.” This is unfertile ground, since Palin can turn the argument on a dime and say: “They drive the country into bankruptcy, they underwrite Fannie and Freddie, they bail out Goldman Sachs, they fight wars they don’t want to win, they say enforcing the immigration laws is silly and they call me stupid! I’ll give you a choice: you can have their smarts or my stupidity, which one do you want?” A large number of GOP presidential primary voters will take Palin’s “stupidity” in a heartbeat.

Larison responds to Ellis:

Ellis links Palin’s fortunes to the midterm results just enough that his confident prediction of Palin’s future front-runner status depends to some extent on how much of a Republican “avalanche” there really ends up being. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that Palin has positioned herself as “the champion of the conservative counter-revolution.” What becomes of the so-called champion if the “counter-revolution” underperforms, falls short or otherwise does not live up to the hype? Barring a takeover of one or both houses of Congress, the midterm results will appear to be a fairly typical loss for the presidential party without much obvious significance. Given the ongoing unemployment woes, probable Republican gains of 25-30 seats will not seem all that extraordinary. Rejectionism on its own will come to be seen as insufficient, and the only reason to nominate Palin is to express unadulterated, unprincipled anti-Obama rejectionism.

Rather crucially, Ellis fails to consider the impact Huckabee could have if he chose to run again. Instead of Iowa serving as Palin’s springboard, Huckabee would suck up all of her oxygen in the caucuses, and he would continue to pull away evangelical and socially conservative voters all across the South. If Ellis is right that the GOP will not nominate a Mormon, which is a huge assumption, it isn’t obvious that Palin would be the beneficiary of Romney’s weakness. For his part, Huckabee seems appealing and congenial even to those who don’t care much for his politics, while Palin’s style grates on the nerves of everyone who doesn’t love her. He actually has vastly more credibility as a leader on social issues then she does, and he has mountains of executive experience in comparison to hers. Palin can’t outflank him by making small-town, working-class or religious appeals, because he matches her or has her beat when it comes to cultural symbolism and pseudo-populism, too.

For that matter, there are only so many evangelicals and social conservative voters to go around, and with the introduction of one or two more real contenders, such as Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty, this vote will be so divided that it could allow a Romney or someone like him to slip through. If the rules changes the RNC is contemplating prolong the process and make more primary contests relevant in determining the nomination, that will make it harder for someone like Palin or Huckabee to compete over the long haul in larger, more ideologically diverse primary electorates all across the country. While the prolonged process will prevent challengers from being wiped out early on, it could end up benefiting Romney by making religious and ideological opposition to his nomination less powerful.

P.S. It’s also telling for Palin’s actual chances that Ellis’ post is really just a roundabout way to justify a presidential campaign by Jeb Bush. Ellis probably doesn’t think Palin has a realistic chance of winning the nomination, but he evidently does want to use the fear of an improbable Palin nomination to get Republicans behind the preposterous idea of continuing the Bush presidential dynasty.

Kenneth Vogel at Politico:

A new financial report filed Sunday evening showed Sarah Palin’s political action committee has taken its fundraising to a higher level – and suggests that she has begun building a more sophisticated political operation in place of a bare-bones organization powered mostly by her rock star status and scrappy on-line presence.

The report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, shows that Palin’s political action committee raised more money in the second quarter of this year – $866,000 – than it had in any previous three-month stretch since Palin formed the group in January 2009.

The committee, SarahPAC, also spent nearly twice as much – $742,000 – as it had in any previous quarter, the lion’s share of which went to the type of list-building and fundraising (including its first major direct-mail campaign) that typically undergird top-tier political committees. It also reported its biggest-ever round of donations to candidates – $87,500 – and its highest outlays for travel costs, including $17,000 on private jet fare to crisscross the country for high-profile political speaking gigs, and speechwriting. It also showed continued payments for that speechwriting as well as foreign and domestic policy consulting, and its first ever payments to a scheduler.

Sarah Palin’s PAC disclosure release has occasioned a new round of “Will she or won’t she?”  If we take the dictum that one’s judgment is more easily interrogated than one’s motivation, we’re left with a simple answer: she’s seriously thinking about running for president. That’s because she’s said she’s seriously thinking about running for president. From there, we can ask a better question: given what Palin has been doing, are her preparations for a 2012 race likely to serve her well? Or are they likely to hurt her chances?

What Palin Has Been Doing

1. She’s been building the foundation for an online, grassroots-oriented national campaign. Her team won’t disclose the size of her Sarah PAC list, but it’s probably quite robust, even if it is padded by the mere curious. Her primary means of communication is via Facebook and Twitter, ways of bypassing the media filter, of course, but also of directly communicating with the cohort of Republican activists she’ll need to execute the type of campaign she’s creating.

2. She’s been traveling and meeting many, many Republicans across many states. This is obvious; she gives speeches, she shakes hands. But many, many more potential voters have some personal connection with her now than they did at the end of the 2008 campaign.

3. She’s brand-testing. The “Mama Grizzlies” web video is all about putting Palin’s stamp on an idea: that conservative women are fired up and ready to go and are the main force multipliers of the Tea Party movement. Palin will need to use her gender to attract women to the cause of declaring independence from the old GOP patriarchy in much the same way that Hillary Clinton sold her ability to be the first viable woman presidential candidate. And then there are the audiences she chooses to speak to — NRA conventions, pro-life conventions, bowling conventions, beer and wholesaler associations — which begin to fill in a picture of what a Palin cloth-coat coalition might look like.

4. She’s keeping her distance from Republicans in power.

5. She’s made strategic endorsements in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, and California.

What Palin Hasn’t Been Doing

1. She hasn’t been recruiting fundraisers, or staff members, or activists. Her inner circle could fit in a Federation runabout. A successful presidential candidate needs fundraisers, staffers, and activists. Then again, Barack Obama had almost no one manning his presidential aspirations at this point in 2006 even as his opponents prepared conventional campaigns. While Mitt Romney makes strategic endorsements in every state and Tim Pawlenty has created PACs to help candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, Palin is not establishing the relationships she would need to establish in order to build political campaigns in these early states. That means that she might be attempting a different type of campaign, or that she has been given bad advice, or that she won’t run at all.

2. She hasn’t been extending her brand. Republicans believe that Palin lacks the substantive chops to be president. This is not a creation of the lamestream media, even though the media’s 2008 coverage may have amplified those doubts. Palin’s friends who regularly Tweet about her doings seem to dismiss these complaints (that she isn’t smart enough, isn’t ready, isn’t developing policy chops) as stupid and uninformed. That said, given that independents’ central issue with Obama will be his failure to fix the economy, it is significant that other Republican presidential aspirants are preparing to run on competence — and Palin is not.

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