Notorious gangster John Dillinger, when asked why he robbed banks coyly replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
By all accounts, it appears Tea Partyers and anti-establishment GOP candidates have recently adopted that same philosophy in colluding with Sarah Palin.
To the disgust (or perhaps delight) of the mainstream media, the former Alaska governor had, by all accounts, a pretty good week. Her winning trifecta included endorsing (and thereby essentially winning) the Alaska Senate Republican primary for Tea Party favorite Joe Miller against incumbent Lisa Murkowski, serving as the featured speaker at Glenn Beck’s rally on the National Mall (a grandiose event that would have made even P.T. Barnum jealous), and lastly, accepting the invitation to headline the annual Ronald Reagan dinner in Iowa--an almost sure signal that she is being taken more seriously by the party establishment as she ponders her 2012 strategy.
Few of these moves came as great surprise to those who follow Palin. Her feud with the Murkowski family is well documented. She defeated Lisa’s father Frank Murkowski for the Alaska gubernatorial nod in 2006--and there is certainly no love lost between the families. She has been a Tea Party favorite from the movement’s inception--speaking to angered, anti-federal government crowds and endorsing Tea Party-esque candidates against their establishment rivals. (The one exception to this rule was her endorsement of John McCain over J.D. Hayworth in the Arizona Senate primary race. Frankly, however, she more than owed McCain that one). The Iowa invitation signals that GOP insiders are recognizing the curious power Palin possesses over many of the citizens who will vote to elect the nation’s next president in 2012, and the GOP establishment’s need to harness her popularity.
Among GOP beltway political insiders, the general consensus is that Palin ultimately won’t run for president. Skeptics cite a multitude of reasons. For one, a failed presidential bid would diminish her popularity, and therefore weaken her staggering income post-gubernatorial resignation. Palin is also incredibly protective of her family, and, as she learned from the McCain campaign, press scrutiny of presidential candidates is excessive to the point of exhaustion. Palin also suffers from an experience gap. While few would dispute that raising five children is the most important job in the world, that argument likely won’t hold much water when debating Mitt Romney about fiscal policy or Haley Barbour about his tenure as RNC chair and his elegant guidance of the state of Mississippi. Lastly, to many beltway Republicans, Palin remains an unsolvable sphinx. Is her popularity merely because she provides a national face and voice to the Tea Party anger at the Obama administration, or is she a genuinely likeable figure whom a majority of Republicans wish to see represent their party against Barack Obama?
Among discussions with Washington politicos, journalists, and strategists (a group never short on opinion), most of them just shake their heads and mutter something like “who knows?”
Palin has made enough money to insure her family is financially secure for their lifetimes. I have no idea what Palin’s intentions are for 2012, but a smaller scale move than a full-fledged presidential bid may ultimately prove a wiser course of action. Perhaps a run for RNC chairman would suit her better. This position would give her the opportunity to truly become immersed in national GOP politics, and gain needed experience for which her critics so love to chastise her. Most importantly, as RNC chair, Palin could go a long way in healing what appears to be a growing chasm between Tea Partyers are traditional Republicans.
I don’t know if she would be good at the job, but like everything she does, she certainly would make it interesting.