Quirky? Quixotic? A quitter? Take your pick in assessing Sarah Palin's surprise announcement that she intends to resign as governor of Alaska at the end of July after only 2½ years of a four-year term.
Palin, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year, remains popular among many conservatives and is able to draw large, enthusiastic crowds across the country. But she has high unfavorable ratings among independents and Democrats. A recent CNN poll found that 43 percent of Americans view her unfavorably. Many political analysts expect her to run for president in 2012, and they see her resignation as a way to free up time to prepare for that campaign. Palin can also focus on marketing her upcoming book and making high-priced speeches, supplementing her personal resources, which she says have been badly depleted by legal fees in battling ethics charges in Alaska.
She remains an enigma within the GOP establishment, seen as unpredictable and too much of a maverick, resistant to making overtures to important conservative constituencies, and lacking knowledge of major issues that face the country, such as international affairs, urban problems, and race relations.
But in a message to supporters on her Facebook page Saturday, she said, "I've never thought I needed a title before one's name to forge progress in America," adding that she is looking forward to promoting "our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint. I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve greatness."
In her rambling announcement Friday, made at her waterfront home in Wasilla, Alaska, Palin said, "As I thought about this announcement that I would not seek re-election, I thought about how much fun other governors have as lame ducks: They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions. I'm not going to put Alaskans through that. I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That's not how I'm wired. I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual."
Palin, 45, said she was spending too much time and too much taxpayer money fighting unfounded ethics allegations. Some of her allies say she also is weary of battling the Alaska Legislature to push through her agenda. She also attacked the "mainstream media," saying they tried to humiliate her and attacked her family. One recent media furor that particularly angered her was when late-night talk-show host David Letterman made raunchy comments about one of her daughters.
Condemning the "MSM" is often good politics on the Republican right, where the media are seen as hopelessly biased against conservatives. But GOP strategists say Palin went too far, seeming to say that she could no longer abide criticism from the media—and from her political opponents on the left. Prominent Republicans wondered how she would do in the hothouse environment of a campaign if she ran for president and how she would stand up to the harsh treatment every president eventually gets once in office.
Conservative columnist George Will said on ABC's This Week yesterday that the reason for Palin's resignation "that rings most hollow is she doesn't want to put Alaska through the terror of being a lame-duck governor. If she is just weary of it, one can understand that. Still, she made a contract with [voters] to serve out her term, and she said, in her own words, she now is a quitter."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination last year and is considered a possible candidate again in 2012, said, "The challenge that she's going to have is that there will be people who will say, 'Look, if they chased you out of this, it won't get any easier at other levels.' " Huckabee added: "It could be a brilliant strategy. The point is, we don't know."
Karl Rove, the chief political strategist for George W. Bush in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, told Fox News yesterday he was "a little perplexed" by Palin's announcement. "It's a risky strategy," Rove said. "The media, if she wants to run for president, is going to be following her for the next 3½ years. Effective strategies in politics are ones that are so clear and obvious that people can grasp .... It's not clear what she's doing and why."