Sarah Palin's book tour, which starts this week, will be her most important political moment since she catapulted to fame as the Republican vice presidential nominee last year. As part of the rollout for Going Rogue, the former Alaska governor is expected to do a series of speeches and high-wire interviews, including tête-à-têtes with Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and conservative television commentators Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.
The charismatic conservative from the Far North has several goals—selling her book, solidifying her status on the Republican right as a potential presidential contender in 2012, and changing perceptions among independents that she is intellectually shallow. Strategists for both parties mostly agree on the do's and don'ts for Palin in the next few weeks:
Be yourself. Personality transplants rarely work, and voters prefer leaders who are genuine. In the past, Palin showed an appealing blend of moxie and savvy as she successfully took on the Republican establishment in Alaska and won the governorship. She also has shown an ability to connect with conservative audiences, which she shouldn't tamper with, the strategists say. But she isn't a policy wonk and shouldn't try to come across as one.
Explain your conservative views in a positive way. Palin needs to elaborate on her philosophy in a comprehensive and disarming manner, as Ronald Reagan used to do. Many political insiders say she should not be belligerent and should avoid emulating hard-line, confrontational TV and radio talkmeisters such as Rush Limbaugh.
Emphasize likability. Most voters prefer likable candidates, especially in presidential races. If Palin runs in 2012, she'll need to emphasize her sense of humor, especially self-deprecation—and this process should start now. A few one- liners poking fun at herself wouldn't be a bad idea.
Don't be an attack dog. Criticizing the Washington establishment of both parties is a winner for an outsider such as Palin. But she can't be disagreeable, or she risks becoming a parody of an inflexible conservative—fodder for late-night comedians on TV.
Don't revel in celebrity. The kiss of political death would be to come across as a publicity seeker who is more interested in making money and staying famous than in solving the country's problems. Palin's initial appeal was as an everyday person who understood the middle class and disdained the elites. Veering away from that would be a big mistake.
Don't get too personal. She should acknowledge problems in her family, such as the pregnancy of daughter Bristol, who split up with fiancé Levi Johnston and is now a single mother. Above all, Palin shouldn't get into a mean-spirited, long-distance food fight with Johnston, even though he has been making derogatory comments about the woman who almost became his mother-in-law. A related bit of advice from GOP professionals: Don't continue quarreling with former campaign aides who bad-mouthed Palin last year. Holding grudges isn't considered an appealing trait for a potential president.
In sum, Palin's path is strewn with land mines. How she navigates her book tour will go a long way toward determining not only her net worth but whether this self-described hockey mom can be a credible presidential candidate.