Sarah Palin continues to terrorize GOP mainstream leaders. She made Iowa a prime stop on her latest book tour junket. Iowa is the bellwether primary state for every presidential hopeful. Then the man who unleashed her on the national scene, John McCain, sloughed off any talk about her being divisive, and said that she'd be formidable as a presidential candidate. Palin flatly told Barbara Walters "I believe so" to her question whether she could beat President Obama in a head to head match-up. Palin has ducked and dodged the question of whether she'll run for president or not. That's just standard procedure for all presidential hopefuls. But barring a cataclysmic happening, scandal, or fatal verbal stumble, Palin will run, and she'll run to win.
A Palin presidential bid that GOP leaders once chuckled at is no longer a laughing matter. She is the most polarizing Republican since Lincoln. But McCain also quickly added that GOP icon Ronald Reagan was also called polarizing. McCain's point was so what, he still went on to greatness. This was yet another tip that in the inner sanctum of GOP political circles, a Palin presidential bid is expected.
The GOP pragmatists who control the money, media spin and party apparatus will do everything they can to maneuver and massage the primaries and convention to ensure that the noise and mischief outsider Palin makes will die before primary season begins. That may not happen. The media and public obsession with Palin, and the mostly favorable scorecard of wins by her endorsed picks in the GOP primaries, did nothing to stir hope that Palin's political star will flame out.
Palin mania, though, is less important than the cast of GOP presidential hopeful competitors. They carry nearly as much baggage as she does. The three best known Palin competitors are Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney. The knock against Gingrich is that he's too divisive, polarizing and washed up. The knock against Huckabee is that his appeal is limited to religious fundamentalists. The knock against Romney is that he's too tainted by an embrace of health care reform and not authentically conservative enough. None of them currently hold any elective office. They will have to scratch and claw to prove to the GOP mainstream leaders that they are viable presidential contenders.
Palin starts with another advantage that they don't. Her mug is seen round the clock on Fox, on news shows, on book tours, and a reality show. The overexposure this early in the presidential hunt makes it that much easier to raise funds and build the type of grassroots organization she'll need to be any kind of real threat.
The lesser known GOP hopefuls, governors, ex governors, and senators say that they can do what Obama did and come from relative political obscurity in a relatively short period of time and make a serious run. That won't wash. Obama was not the political rags to riches story that he was made out to be. He spent four years building support in the party, raising money, writing books, and honing a catchy and timely message. This created a groundswell of acclaim, admiration and support for him, and ultimately a million-dollar winning political image for him. One of the currently obscure GOP presidential hopefuls could break from the pack and build the support and garner the cash it takes to make a serious run. But to do that they'll also have to try to sell the Tea Party throngs that they would be the better choice for the GOP presidential than their heroine, Palin. That's a near impossible sale. Palin has already staked out that turf, and it appears unshakeable. GOP consultants have noted the overwhelming majority of Tea Party-leaning ultra-conservatives watch Fox News religiously, and when they do they see and hear Palin spouting one or another dig, slam or inanity about Obama. They love every word of that. She's also cheer-led by Limbaugh and Beck and other Tea Party mass media gurus, and she has command of the social media network.
Palin's strength is to play on and to stoke popular rage and frustration with tin ear politicians who've turned voters into invisible men and women. That translates to millions of disgruntled, frustrated voters who will be sorely tempted to push, prod and hector the GOP to give Palin her due. Many will be just as sorely tempted to vote for Palin as a maverick candidate, or if her name is not on any ballot, stay at home. This would be tantamount to a vote for Obama. This would be an even bigger disaster for the GOP.
Palin, then, is the GOP's textbook Catch-22: if they nominate her they almost certainly guarantee Obama the very thing that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly crowed and to blow the chance to make Obama a one term president. A Palin presidential nomination snub would risk incurring the anger of millions of GOP grassroots voters. Palin is the GOP's, not Obama's, worst nightmare.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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