My Basic Theory of Sarah Palin

Yes, I think that Palin is running in 2012.

There have been two basic strains of thought on Palin’s post-2008 behavior.  One asserts that she is mostly cashing in on her unexpected move from relative obscurity to the center stage of American politics.  The other assumes that she sees herself as the heir apparent to the Republican nomination as well as the best person to challenge Obama for the presidency in 2012.

The argument for the former position is that the choices she has made, from resigning mid-term from the governor’s office to starring in a reality TV show, are not the kinds of things that one ought to be doing if one is seeking higher office. And, to give her credit, she has been extremely savvy in parlaying her run as veep nominee into an impressive media career.*

However, I have never thought that the two positions, i.e., cashing in and running for office, are mutually exclusive.  So I choose both.  Indeed, I think that she thinks that all of the things she has done to cash-in (the book, the FNC gig, the TV show, even Bristol on DWTS) help position her for 2012.

Specifically, I think that Palin represents the culmination of the rise of partisan (specifically in this case Republican/conservative) media that started in the mid-to-late 1980s and grew up alongside the growth of niche media and the segmentation of news/commentary consumption in the United States because of cable and the internet.   It is possible now to not only get conservative-oriented news and commentary it is possible to get exclusively conservative-oriented news and commentary.  Further, Palin has cleverly exploited long-standing resentments within the public about perceptions of liberal bias in the press.   This is especially true of older voters who remember (and resented) the pre-cable era when all the news came through the Big Three Networks and from anchors who were often believed to have liberal-leaning perspectives.**

While it is quite true that her overall numbers are quite negative, she has carefully insulated herself inside a media bubble where she is praised and has therefore avoided the kinds of media scrutiny that marked her initial foray onto the national stage (see here, here, here and here for a refresher).  Yes, she is regularly criticized in the press writ large, but she can ignore that as she sees fits from within her FNC force shield. If one places oneself in a situation in which one is more likely to be praised than not (not to mention the clamor this election season for her endorsement), then one is likely to take a distorted view of one’s overall popularity (empirical evidence to the contrary be damned, such as a 22% favorable, 48% not favorable rating in a recent poll).

I know people who are convinced that Palin’s national popularity is on the rise despite the aforementioned empirical evidence.  Why do they think this?  It is because the only news that they consume outside of the local newspaper is Fox News Channel, especially its commentary programming.  If viewers think this (and a poll of Fox News consumers would be quite interesting on this count), then it is hardly difficult to see Palin self-deluding on her actual popularity.  Further, it is generically easy for politicians to see themselves from the perspective of their more ardent supporters rather than from the POV of the broader public.***

Let me be clear:  I think that there is a enough support within the GOP base for Palin to make a reasonable showing in the primaries.  Indeed, given the success in such contests of candidates Christine O’Donnell I no longer think it impossible that she could win the nomination (though, I still think it improbable).  There is no doubt that Sarah Palin has her fans.  However, I still maintain that she will be unable to win the White House, even if Obama continues to struggle with his popularity over the next two years.

Indeed, it is not just Palin.  Consider what Doug Mataconis called “The Fox New Primary” recently, i.e., the fact that several of the potential contenders for the GOP nomination are all employed by Fox News Channel:  Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee (also Rick Santorum).  This matters not because there is anything wrong with working for Fox News, but so doing in this context has two key effects:

1) It creates a certain level of immunity in terms of reporting, at least from Fox News.  This means that a)  these individuals will not be treated objectively by Fox News reports, which leads into b) therefore the base voters in the GOP primaries aren’t exactly getting full coverage of these individuals (since their main source of news is, well, Fox News).

2)  Such a situation creates a distorted view of reality for the candidates in question.  If one is primarily dealing with like-minded individuals who treat you more as a media diva/source of ratings than as a candidate for public office, one is likely prone to develop unrealistic views of oneself and one’s political prospects.

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*While I have serious doubts about her knowledge and understanding of the issues of the day, it is clear that she isn’t stupid.

**I am not even going to get into the issue of whether the biases in question existed or not.  The bottom line remains that this perception exists and is a real motivator for some voters.  It is a view that Rush Limbaugh (“I don’t need equal time, I am equal time.”) has long tapped into and that Palin does as well (i.e., the “lamestream media” shtick).  Indeed, playing on media resentment is one of Palin’s main go-to moves.  It is a very popular move in many portions of the GOP base.

***One word:  “Joe-mentum.”  Two more words:  “Fred Thompson.”  Indeed, thousands of such words could be written if one were so inclined.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    “And, to give her credit she has been extremely savvy in parlaying her run as veep nominee into an impressive media career. ”

    Not really.

    The ratings for her Fox shows have been abysmal.

  2. Nightrider says:

    Fox News’ “distorted view of reality” is not reserved for people it employs. But so many people buy into the distortions that it effectively is a reality.

  3. @Ponce:

    Let me clarify: I am talking about her bottom line. She has clearly done quite well for herself in terms of enhancing her bank account. That is what I am getting at here (especially in terms of the “cashing in” part of the conversation).

    And her FNC presence is more about being on other shows doing commentary than any stand-alones she has done (or so I would argue).

  4. Jake says:

    Someone please tell quitter that she is a joke. Palin is nothing but a uneducated grifter/oportunist who saw $$$$ and runs toward it. She is not smart, but manages to say the same stupid things, and she has no ideas. Her family is a joke, all of them have either been in jail or continue to be drunk. Her son Track was aressted for cutting school bus lines, nice Sarah, Willow was aressted for trashing a house, Bristol has been on drunks and ran around loose sleeping her way thru Wasilla, Piper is never in school, and Palin doesn’t take care of Trig. Has Social Services been called on this quitter mother. Toad has a DUI and his sister
    is in jail and Levi’s mom is a drug adict and is in jail. This family is a disgrace, they are nothing but trailor trash. Palin is mad at the elite because she will never be elite, she has no educated, she has no morals, and she is street smart, thats it. Palin is nothing but a mean snarky troublemaker and needs to go back to the wild. PALIN IS A WILD ALASKAN DINGBAT
    troling for $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Palin you are a disgrace as a mother and has a human being.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I too think that “cashing in” and “running for office” are not mutually exclusive here, but I think the appearance of running for office ultimately just gives her relevance and “stature” to her celebrity seeking. The moment she really gets into the race, she will be “Roved,” and abandoned by supporters. The moment before that, Republican candidates will fawn and bow to her Queenship for her influence and support.

  6. john personna says:

    If you don’t mind, I’ll introduce a big topic here. It’s really big. So big it could take a generation or two for Americans to understand and digest:

    Dopamine Gene Variant Predisposes To Liberalism

    I’ve suggested in the past that strongly held, ideological, positions don’t make much sense in a heterogeneous society. They make a “blank slate” assumption that people are alike, and can be convinced. A libertarian (or a socialist) can think “you are like me, but you just don’t understand.”

    It’s time to drop that. The science is against it. Instead, we should recognize that we are all different, and the only workable solutions are ones that work mixed populations of us.

    I’ll hang this off the “basic theory of Sara Palin” thread, because my basic theory of her is that she has that mistaken world-view. She’s a classic ideologue with a minority position. She thinks everyone can be convinced, because in her mental model, they are all like her.

    Some are, but some aren’t.

  7. Pete says:

    Jake, you sound like a jilted lover. Either your emotions are running wild or you are just as dumb as you claim her to be, since your screed is full of grammatical and spelling errors.
    Please don’t miss your meds again.

  8. ponce says:

    “I am talking about her bottom line. ”

    True, but the ‘reality’ show she’s starrring in was a desperate, last minute deal for minimal bucks after her far more gradiose projects failed because of the crappy ratings her Fox shows got.

    To us commoners the loot she’s gotten since quitting her job seems impressive, but poor Sarah is probably busy trimming back her plans and purchases desperately to adjust to her reduced income stream.

    I bet we see her in Playboy in the next few years…

  9. jwest says:

    It seems as though you have your mind made up concerning Sarah Palin’s reasons for resigning the governorship of Alaska, so perhaps you could help the readers attain the same degree of enlightenment.

    Imagine you are the one advisor she would listen to after the ’08 election. She is facing multiple manufactured ethics charges backed by frightened democrats alarmed at her popularity. Each charge needs to be addressed by a lawyer, consuming time and money that, by Alaska state law, must be paid for personally. There is $500,000 in legal fees associated with the campaign that the RNC is hedging on paying and other bills still in limbo.

    Additionally, the office of the governor is the target of numerous other charges and inquiries that are consuming hundreds of hours of staff time and legal fees.

    As her advisor, and knowing that she values what is best for the state, what course of action would you recommend she take?

  10. Trumwill says:

    Someone please tell quitter that she is a joke. Palin is nothing but a uneducated grifter/oportunist who saw $$$$ and runs toward it.

    I’m not a Palin fan, but she does have a bachelor’s degree from a flagship state university. That’s a whole lot more than most people have.

  11. Trumwill says:

    Let me be clear: I think that there is a enough support within the GOP based for Palin to make a reasonable showing in the primaries. Indeed, given the success in such contests of candidates Christine O’Donnell I no longer think it impossible that she could win the nomination (though, I still think it improbable).

    Possible but improbable sounds about right to me. I might say “very improbable”. I think the Fred Thompson example is instructive. Running for president is hard work and Thompson’s heart wasn’t in it. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to believe that Palin has the discipline and organization to be able to get very far. Running a campaign is very different from taking potshots on Facebook and making some rally speeches.

    I am more skeptical than you that she will run, though I think those dismissing the possibility outright are way too confident. I put the odds at 50/50 merely because I have no idea and there are two possibilities.

  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Jwest, you have to understand people like Taylor have no concept of what your last sentence means. Liberals tend to ignore facts and pay more attention to feeeeeelings. Steven L. Taylor is more of feeeeeeling kind of guy. The feeeeeeeling he gets from Palin is fear. The Progressive movement cannot stand up to the truth. They are afraid to deliniate what they are progressing from and progressing to. The truth of the matter will cause them to be rejected and no one like rejection.

  13. @jwest:

    It seems as though you have your mind made up concerning Sarah Palin’s reasons for resigning the governorship of Alaska, so perhaps you could help the readers attain the same degree of enlightenment.

    Oddly, writing commentary and analysis requires reaching conclusions and I always find it odd when commenters say things like this. Of course, you are welcome to reach your own position.

    Imagine you are the one advisor she would listen to after the ’08 election. She is facing multiple manufactured ethics charges backed by frightened democrats alarmed at her popularity. Each charge needs to be addressed by a lawyer, consuming time and money that, by Alaska state law, must be paid for personally. There is $500,000 in legal fees associated with the campaign that the RNC is hedging on paying and other bills still in limbo.

    Additionally, the office of the governor is the target of numerous other charges and inquiries that are consuming hundreds of hours of staff time and legal fees.

    As her advisor, and knowing that she values what is best for the state, what course of action would you recommend she take?

    I agree it is the public rationale that she made at the time. I don’t really believe, however, that she quit for the good of the state of Alaska. And if I had been her advisor at the time, I would not have advised her to quit if she wanted a future political career.

    She was hardly the first politician to have to deal with such issues, I would note.

    Even if we allow that such an explanation is an accurate one, I presume you then think that she never again run for public office, yes? Given, after all, that she would then be subject to the same problems and all.

  14. ponce says:

    “As her advisor, and knowing that she values what is best for the state, what course of action would you recommend she take?”

    Ignoring how laughably naive this whine is…I gotta ask, why should wingnuts care if Sarah Palin admitted she quit her government job so she could rake in millions on the right-wing rube milking circuit?

    Isn’t self-interested greed considered a virtue by the Tea Partiers?

    Why are they so desperate to get non-believers to swallow Palin’s phony altruistic creation story?

  15. jwest says:

    Steven/Ponce,

    Politics is a game of perception. People will accept the general spin until something happens that makes them feel like they’ve been lied to.

    Between Palin’s public speaking appearances, her Fox News segments and the upcoming Discovery series on Alaska, the great unwashed masses are beginning to figure out that the portrayal of her by certain media elites doesn’t match the reality of what they see.

    At no other time in the country’s history has the stage been set like it is now for a political backlash against the media. Polls indicate that the MSM rates just above child molesters as trustworthy, so once the pro-Sarah ball is given a slight push down the hill, Palin’s Q-rating will grow as media personalities scramble to either get on board or be run over.

    Apparently, the two of you will be staring, mouths agape, at the bottom of the hill watching this coming towards you.

  16. @jwest:

    To quote myself: “empirical evidence to the contrary be damned, such as a 22% favorable, 48% not favorable rating in a recent poll”

  17. ponce says:

    “At no other time in the country’s history has the stage been set like it is now for a political backlash against the media.”

    Um, Sarah Palin is part of the media.

    Heck, Sarah Palin is the media.

  18. Drew says:

    LOL What a dopey essay and thread. So she runs, she loses, end of story. Shrug.

    But all the BS about no experience, media bias, etc is laughable.

    Have you guys been awake for 50 years watching politics? Have you watched recent campaigns? Have you actually watched the quotations from our Speaker? Have you ever pricked the surface just below our President’s laughibly light “hope and change” campaign?

    And how’s that working out? We have a referendum coming up in a week (oh, and Sarah Palin isn’t running, folks) and I think the jury is going to be displeased with the last two years.

    This whole essay and thread is pathetically misdirected.

  19. john personna says:

    We can probably guess that Drew doesn’t have the dopamine gene.

  20. Stan says:

    Readers of The American Communist Party by Irving Howe and Lewis Coser will recognize the uncanny way in which the Republican party has duplicated the Communist cultural world of the Stalinist era. American Communists and their sympathizers read Communist and fellow-traveling newspapers, periodicals, and books. They attended left-wing nightclubs, they sent their children to left-wing summer camps, and if they were religious believers they attended services led by left-wing clergymen. Now we see the same thing. You get up in the morning, you take in the Washington Times or the New York Post along with your cereal and coffee, you turn on Fox News, and then you listen to Rush. Later in the day you endure the depressingly honest Shep Smith before going on to the infinitely more satisfying Glen, Bill, and Sean. You can see the result when you read the comments in blogs like this one. When I first encountered Zelsdorf Ragshaft III, I thought he was a parody dreamed up by some lefty. No, he’s real, and he and people like him show how why the Republicans are our natural governing party. And yes, I’m convinced Sarah Palin will be nominated in 2012.

  21. Alex Knapp says:

    Drew,

    Have you ever pricked the surface just below our President’s laughibly light “hope and change” campaign?

    It’s funny you should say that, because when Obama started campaigning, he was unilaterally panned as being “too wonky”; “too professorial”; “too intellectual.” So his campaign changed tactics and went to the “Hope and Change” stuff.

    That said, I watched quite a few of his campaign speeches and could tell when he went off script, because it was almost always in favor of being analytical, being detached, etc… And of course, he wonked circles around McCain in the debates.

    Of course, being analytical doesn’t mean being correct, but his is the only campaign I can recall that actively moved from being wonky to superficial. I find that fascinating.

  22. john personna says:

    Here’s another article on the “we’re all different” theory of political conflict:

    A New Take on Political Ideology

    Again, my take away is that when populations are heterogeneous, we should look for solutions that work for most, if not all, people.

  23. mbabbitt says:

    I love how people on the Left, especially the most rabid Palin haters ignore how she fought both the Republican establishment in Alaska and the oil companies — and was successful. She has guts. All the Left has is ad hominem, elitist attacks — snobbery. I used to be a hard leftist and voted Democrat all of my life. But I changed after 9/11 because I started listening to the other side and started to allow the possibility that they were coming from good intentions and were not the evil …. I used to think Republicans and conservatives were by definition. Today, I know many on the Left have good intentions but I think that they do not understand two things: human evil and economics 101. But I also know their is a cancer in the Left that would let the country become bankrupt and weak just so that the big union bosses and politicians can gain more power for themselves. It is also a problem that afflicts some of the older Republican guard (like Tom Delay, who despises the Tea Partiers). Conservatism is not against change. It’s about being very careful before you make radical changes to your government or culture. Sarah Palin in another age would be considered quite a female maverick, a progressive of sorts, but today she is vilified by the Left with idiotic, intolerant, culturally narrow, stereotypic garbage as is evidenced in some of the comments here.

  24. arthur says:

    Ahh…Sarah……A great American hero of the first order. May God bless her heart to no end…
    Thank you Sarah for standing up for our traditional American values…because our president certainly will not (How could he, he was never taught them !!)

  25. Pete’s response to Jake is perfect and is typical of people who have no counter argument to comments they disagree with. Discuss the points made, don’t discuss grammar. I have known some pretty stupid people whose grammar was perfect and some very intelligent people whose grammar was sometimes careless. My recently released film, ‘The Eyes Of Van Gogh’, is a perfect example. Vincent was a brilliant man and spoke four languages and his grammar was lousey in all of them.