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The Palin Calculus: A Rejoinder

I had hoped to respond to Nate’s initial post explaining our Sarah Palin bet before he wrote a second one. But I guess I’ll just have to write a rejoinder to both.

Let me preface the following by conceding that many of Nate’s arguments are quite persuasive. Most compelling is his observation about the media’s love affair with Palin. For all her complaints about the supposedly liberal national media, the media want to sell ads and Palin attracts eyeballs, holds listeners, and generates clicks. The media is the best thing she’s got going for her. Nate’s also right about the 2012 GOP field potentially being small and/or weak; if either Mike Huckabee or Newt Gingrich opt out–and certainly if both do–Palin’s path to the nomination is made easier.

That said, herewith 10 additional reasons why Palin either won’t run or, if she does, will have a hard time winning the GOP nomination:

1. She’s unqualified to be president. That’s a normative statement, but it’s also one that most Americans happen to agree with. Now, it may be no surprise that 90 percent of Democrats feel that way. But a CNN poll out this week shows that, amazingly, about four in nine Republicans concur and, most damning, about seven of 10 Independents do, too. Sarah’s got legitimacy issues.

2. Nobody’s ambivalent about her. People know who Palin is, and almost all have developed opinions about her. If those opinions were overwhelmingly positive, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. (See #1, above.) And once a politician loses core support, they have to do something extraordinary to reverse the public’s view of them. (An exception who defied this rule with exceptional behavior is Al Gore, who tripled his public approval numbers between 2002 and 2007.) In short, there’s just too much Palin needs to do to reverse the opinions of voters, including Republican voters.

3. There should be at least one certifiable social conservative in the GOP field, maybe more, and she’ll be eating from the same bowl as this person(s). Palin isn’t the only person going rogue–the whole damn party is. Nate’s right that there aren’t many moderates left in the party, but there aren’t many moderate elites left, either. Although Gingrich did some damage to his conservative cred by failing to rally to Doug Hoffman’s defense in the NY23 special election, he’s still the guy from the southern suburbs who led the GOP to its 1994 majorities and he’s not some recent convert to social conservatism like Mitt Romney. And then there’s Huckabee, who is already ideally positioned for the nomination after his underfunded but impressive late-stage showing in 2008. Throw in Haley Barbour and there’s even less room for Palin to dominate among conservative GOPers.

4. She is politically homeless. Though few true-red conservatives bought into Mitt Romney’s 2008 conversion from his socially-liberal days as the Massachusetts governor who pushed through statewide health care reform, the Mormon Romney would again fare well in Palin’s natural geographic base: The West. Remember the map of victories in the 2008 GOP primary contest? If Romney eats into her support there and either Huckabee or Gingrich do the same in the South, where is she going to find the votes? The Midwest, maybe, but not in the Northeast. She’s a candidate without a natural, geographic base of support.

5. The fam. I’m sorry, but if John Kerry had Sarah Palin’s family we would still be enduring non-stop lectures about the depravity of liberal values. The Palin family situation is messy, and smart Republican primary voters (more on that in point #10) must recognize that there are too many potential landmines here. I mean, the father of Palin’s illegitimate grandson is about to appear semi-nude–sorry gals, no full frontal–in Playgirl magazine. ‘Nuff said.

6. There’s a good chance Palin loses her cool. Nate says my fatal error is assuming Palin is thinking through this big decision rationally. OK, he’s got me there. But if her irrationality is reason to suspect she may run despite her negatives, it’s also reason to suspect that, if she does run, she’s going to make at least one if not more fatal errors. Palin was in the national spotlight during the 2008 campaign, but only for a little more than two months. A presidential run for her would generate far greater pressure–and continuously so for a period eight times longer as a presidential contender than she had to endure as second banana in 2008.

7. She has serious policy weaknesses. I’m not talking here about her policy positions, I’m talking about her grasp of the issues. Just read the stuttering, vapid answer she gave to Barbara Walters when asked about Israeli settlements. This is not a politician ready to run the White House. I realize she has a lot of time to bone up on the issues in the next 18 months. But, c’mon: If people thought George W. Bush was a dolt who could only repeat stock, memorized phrases, compared to Palin Bush is a Rhodes scholar.

8. Her media career. I may be proved wrong, but I see a media career in Palin’s future: TV, radio, maybe both. She could wait until after 2012 to pursue that course. But, like a collegiate sophomore who’s also a top-5 draft prospect, she runs the risk of injury if she doesn’t go pro when the money is there. If not already in the works, once the book promotional tour settles down she’s gonna have some big offers. On the Right, where Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter are the best conservative media has to offer in terms of female stars, Palin could burn brightly. And once she goes that route, her presidential ambitions will dim quickly.

9. Todd Palin is not First Gentleman material. Fairly or not, candidates’ spouses matter–in the White House and on the campaign trail. Fairly or not, they quite possibly matter more for female presidential contenders. What does Todd Palin bring to the equation? Not much, so far as I can tell. He would be dwarfed by Michelle Obama in more ways than one.

10. GOP primary voters are interested in electability, not message-sending. Nate is right that for Republicans in 2012, against incumbent Barack Obama, it might be tempting to send a 1964-like message. But if that were the case, given the bottom the party reached in 2008, they should have nominated somebody like Huckabee instead of John McCain. They didn’t. Bob Dole in 1996 and McCain last year weren’t great candidates, but they were the best option available, which is exactly the candidate sober Republican primary voters choose every four years. It’s not clear to me who the best general election candidate in the field of potential 2012 contenders is–my hunch runs toward Gingrich, maybe Romney if he can get evangelicals on board–but Palin ain’t it.