No Room for Palin in Party She Remade?
What to make of her second straight loss?
NYT politics reporter Jeremy W. Peters makes an interesting but unpersuasive claim in his memo, “Sarah Palin Loses as the Party She Helped Transform Moves Past Her.”
It is hard to overstate just how much of a jolt to the political system Sarah Palin delivered when she defeated her first fellow Republican 16 years ago.
He was Frank Murkowski, the sitting governor of Alaska and a towering figure in the 49th state. She was a “hockey mom” and the former mayor of a small, working-class town who vowed to stick it to the “good ol’ boys.” That race put her on the map with the national Republican Party and set her on a path that would change her life, and the tenor of American politics for years to come.
Then, Ms. Palin was at the vanguard of the dog-whistling, no-apologies political culture that former President Donald J. Trump now embodies.
Today, having lost her bid for Congress after years out of the spotlight, Ms. Palin is a much diminished force.
She was, in many ways, undone by the same political currents she rode to national prominence, first as Senator John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008 and later as a Tea Party luminary and Fox News star. Along the way, she helped redefine the outer limits of what a politician could say as she made dark insinuations about Barack Obama’s background and false claims about government “death panels” that could deny health care to seniors and people with disabilities.
Now, a generation of Republican stars follows the template she helped create as a hybrid celebrity-politician who relished fighting with elements in her own party as much as fighting with Democrats — none more so than Mr. Trump, who watched her closely for years before deciding to run for president himself. He ensured this month that he would remain in the spotlight, announcing another bid for the White House in 2024.
But as the next generation rose up, Ms. Palin’s brand of politics no longer seemed as novel or as outrageous. Next to Mr. Trump’s lies about a huge conspiracy to deny him a second term, or Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s casual allusions to political violence, Ms. Palin’s provocations more than a decade ago can seem almost quaint.
Peters goes on to make a good case about the degree to which Palin shifted the national party and to remind us that, as unprepared as she was to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency in 2008, she was actually an effective and popular governor before she quit mid-term after losing that election. It’s also true that the spunky, off-script Palin of 2008 seems rather wholesome and banal in comparison to some of the QAnon types that have won seats in Congress and nominations for governorships and the Senate—to say nothing of Trump.
But her second-straight loss in her Alaska comeback would seem to indicate the opposite of Peters’ thesis.
The reversal of Ms. Palin’s political fortunes today means that many of the renegades who modeled themselves after her — and many of her rivals — have outlasted her. Lisa Murkowski, the daughter of the former Alaska governor Ms. Palin defeated 16 years ago by more than 30 points, has won her bid for another term to the United States Senate. (Ms. Murkowski, a Republican, endorsed Ms. Peltola, the Democrat who beat Ms. Palin on Tuesday.)
Alaska didn’t reject Palin for Uber Palins who out-Palined Palin. Rather, they re-elected a moderate Republican governor, a moderate Republican Senator endorsed by a moderate Democratic Representative, and a moderate Democratic Representative endorsed by the moderate Republican Senator—the latter on the strength of second ballots of those who preferred a moderate Republican to Palin.
Now, I tend to think Alaska is sui generis and that there’s seldom much to learn from any particular down-ballot election. Rather clearly, the Republican Party as a whole is more Palinesque in 2022 than it was in 2008. Indeed, while I was roundly attacked and surely lost quite a number of readers for my continuing insistence that Palin was an ignoramus unfit to be President then, today’s Republican voters would likely embrace that charge as another way to “own the libs.”