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Sarah Palin Needs Help

There’s something which, if you’ve ever been in the business of trying to sell consulting services, you’ve probably grown accustomed to. It’s what I call the “consulting paradox”. Namely, it’s the idea that the people who are most in need of help are often the least aware of it. Indeed, the range of potential clients who (i) aren’t smart enough to solve all their own problems and (ii) are smart enough to know it … is generally very narrow.

Sarah Palin needs help. So does almost every politician — but Palin needs it more than most. She is young. She is inexperienced. She’s not especially well connected. She’s strong-willed and a little impulsive. And call me a hater, but the woman just ain’t that bright.

Is it a big deal that Palin wrote some notes on her hand? No, not really. Lots of politicians carry notes with them (if not, as in Palin’s case, literally on them). If this were Mitt Romney, it wouldn’t have been a particularly big story. Nevertheless, politics is inherently contextual, and this was something that was bound to play into every negative caricature of Mrs. Palin. Somebody needed to take Palin aside and tell her: Honey, this is going to make you look ridiculous. Can’t you write on a notecard instead?

Somebody needed to tell Palin that, you know what, it’s OK to criticize Rush Limbaugh once in a while. Voters like moments that make candidates look big, mature, above the fray — Palin took what could have been such a moment and instead backtracked and made herself look petty and hypocritical.

Somebody needed to tell Palin that, if she were hellbent on quitting as Alaska’s governor, she at least needed to take the time to develop a competent exit strategy and a coherent farewell speech.

Somebody needed to tell Palin that it wasn’t going to do any good to get into a he-said, she-said with an attention-starved 19-year-old who was getting ready to pose nude for Playgirl.

Somebody needed to sit down with Palin and consider whether, for a candidate who gets significant leverage out of the sense that she’s been persecuted by the mainstream media, becoming a correspondent for one of the mainstream media networks was going to be helpful to her in the long run.

Somebody needed to make sure that Sarah Palin was ready for the Katie Couric interview, or needed to find some excuse to cancel it.

Somebody needed to tell Palin that using the term “death panels” was probably not going to help her personally at a time when she was trying to demonstrate to her critics that she could be credible about policy.

With the exception of the decision to quit as governor and perhaps the Couric interview, all of these were minor mistakes, at most. But they point toward a candidate who needs to surround herself with good people and has conspicuously refused to do so, instead relying on advice from her husband and her bush-league media spokeswoman, Meg Stapelton.

I’ve made the comparison before between Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. Neither of them are geniuses — nor do they need to be. But Bush was at least smart enough to surround himself with a team of exceptionally competent strategists, advisers and consultants. He was smart enough to recognize that it takes a village to get oneself elected President, and ideally one a bit less isolated and insular than Wasilla. Palin hasn’t figured that out yet; her ability to become the Republican nominee and have a fighting chance in the general election will depend on her ability to do so.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.