Republican Establishment vs. Sarah Palin

Unnamed Republican leaders are lined up to ensure that anybody but the former VP nominee is the party's 2012 standard bearer.

Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei of Politico report (“Next for GOP leaders: Stopping Sarah Palin“) that unnamed Republican leaders are lined up to ensure that anybody but the former VP nominee is the party’s 2012 standard bearer.

Interviews with advisers to the main 2012 presidential contenders and with other veteran Republican operatives make clear they see themselves on a common, if uncoordinated, mission of halting the momentum and credibility Palin gained with conservative activists by plunging so aggressively into this year’s midterm campaigns.


“There is a determined, focused establishment effort … to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin,” said one prominent and longtime Washington Republican. “We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her.”  This sentiment was a nearly constant refrain in POLITICO interviews with top advisers to the candidates most frequently mentioned as running in 2012 and a diverse assortment of other top GOP officials.


The stop-Palin talks are by no means coordinated among the various campaigns. But top advisers for most of the 2012 hopefuls told us the candidates — as well as many establishment figures — are fixated on the topic, especially on how to keep her from running or how to deny her the nomination if she does run.


[N]onchalance has turned to alarm among party elites in 2010, as Palin repeatedly showed her clout among a key bloc of anti-establishment conservatives. Obviously relishing her role as a powerful force in GOP primaries, Palin made risky but decisive endorsements for Senate candidates such as Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, both of whom beat establishment favorites but in the process made those states less winnable for the GOP.


The establishment-vs.-activists narrative is hardly novel in presidential primaries. What’s different this time is that the anti-establishment candidate — Palin — would enter with unmatched celebrity and media advantages, at a time when the establishment is weaker than it’s been in many years.

Stories like this feed Palin’s sense of being an aggrieved outsider.  This, despite having been the most recent vice presidential nominee.

It’s likely the case that, if Palin decides to run — and I’m slowly coming around to the notion that she aims to do so, despite every move seemingly calculated to make her less plausible for the presidency — she’ll not only be the frontrunner but the candidate everyone else is gunning for.   As it stands now, Mitt Romney is the only other candidate with demonstrated ability to raise enough money and build a national organization.   And he’s not exactly without flaws as a contender.

Aside from getting behind a single, alternative candidate early and persuading everyone else to drop out of the race, I’m not sure what it is the Establishment can do.  The piece attributes to a “longtime Republican leader” the notion that “party elders hope to thwart Palin by strengthening the Republican National Committee.”   But it’s not at all clear what good that would do.  The RNC doesn’t endorse, fund, or otherwise help primary candidates.

And the Republican nominating process, specifically designed to give a huge advantage to early frontrunners by awarding delegates on a winner-take-all basis, could have the perverse effect of nominating the candidate that a majority thinks would be a disaster.   She could easily get a plurality in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — especially in a crowded field.

The Establishment’s best hope, aside from Palin deciding she wants to be the next Oprah rather than the next Obama, is for another candidate with strong Tea Party appeal to run and split that voting bloc.  But who would that be?   Mike Huckabee would seem the obvious choice — he was technically the number two finisher (by virtue of staying in to collect delegates long after the race was over, unlike Romney) in 2008, and legitimately the number three finisher.   But does he have any juice left?  Or has Palin supplanted him as the outsider candidate?

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Smooth Jazz says:

    Finally a Palin piece on OTB that is not obligatory putdown we read on Huff Post, DailyKOS, etc. This was a fair and balanced assessment from OTB. No emotion, no bias, Not the typical “Palin is toxic”, “Palin cannot win”, “Palin is divisive”, “Palin is a dunce” blah blah blah we usually get from Doug Mataconis when it comes to Palin. Indeed, this type of article feeds into her hand. The fact is Romney, Pawlenty et al excite no one, and being referenced in an article like this puts them at a bigger disadvantage versus Palin IMO.

    Let’s face facts – Obama has been an unmitigated disaster. A purveyor of policies that have been rejected, backed up by a think skin and a narcisstic view of himself that many people find offensive. Basically, all he has left in his corner are the typical left wing groups – unions, minorities (No, I’m not racist; I’m an African American telling it ike it is), communists, etc. Overwhelming majorities of the country have already tuned him out, even as the usual suspects at MSNBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, NY Times, Wash Post, etc etc etc try to prop him up.

    Heck, even George W Bush would likely beat him if an election was held today. I think anybody counting out Palin because she is “dumb” is kidding themselves. After what Obama has done to the country, by 2012 the country may be in the mood for anyone but him, especially a woman who has been a former governor. Obama better hope the economy turns around in a big way by 2012 otherwise he is finished. And there is nothing “Repub” elders can do to change that dynamic.

  2. Smooth Jazz,

    For the record, I don’t count Palin out at all. In fact, quite the opposite.

    I just don’t think she belongs within a thousand miles of the Oval Office.

  3. sam says:

    For what the GOP establishment has in store for the Tea Partiers, and by extension, Sarah Palin, see Frank Rich’s column in the Sunday Times, The Grand Old Plot Against the Tea Party . I’m afraid Mr. Jazz and his co-religionists political fellow travelers are in for a world of emotional hurt.

  4. largebill says:


    If Palin should not get within a thousand miles of the oval office, how far away should Obama have been kept? It would be one thing to say you would prefer X, Y, or Z to Palin. It is hyperbolic to go so far as to say a thousand miles as though she is so bad you would prefer ANY other schmuck politician who would continue the DC game to her.

  5. section9 says:

    The problem for the GOP Establishment, of course, is the grass roots. This is something Palin recognizes and knows how to tap into rather easily.

    The GOP is going to win back the House tomorrow by default, not because it is offering superior policies to Obama (with the notable exception of Paul Ryan, of course). Let’s be clear, Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, and Cornyn, are upset with Obama because Obama is taking THEIR place at the buffet table of swag, earmarks, and pork.

    Well, that just will not do!

    The rank and file in the GOP knows this. That’s why they by and large despise Leadership.

    Palin may not win in 2012. She may only come in second. But what she will do, and what she is determined to do, is reform the GOP from within. Because right now, the only thing we’re going to do tomorrow is going to get the Same Old Same Old corruptocrats we thought we got rid of in 2006.

  6. largebill,

    I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and I won’t vote for him 2012 does that answer your question ?

    That doesn’t mean, though, that I’ll vote for whatever schmuck politician the GOP nominates to run against him.

  7. largebill says:

    Doesn’t really answer the question about why you indicate any standard issue politician is preferable to Palin? I’m not saying she is my first choice and I have no idea if she will run, but she is better than any I saw running in the last cycle.

  8. john personna says:

    I suggested that this election cycle could be the Tea Party’s shark jump.

    This closing of Republican ranks could be a response to that. In the aftermath of the O’Donnell, Paladino, Angle, and Miller campaigns, they may be thinking there is something to backroom politics after all.

  9. TG Chicago says:

    @Smooth Jazz

    “Heck, even George W Bush would likely beat him if an election was held today.”

    Actually, that’s highly unlikely when you consider that Bush’s job approval ratings at the end of his term were far lower than Obama’s are now. In fact, the vast majority of Bush’s second term was spent below the level at which Obama currently sits.

    You say “Overwhelming majorities of the country have already tuned him out” even though that is not supported by polls. He’s a little underwater, true, but not “overwhelmingly”. And I defy you to find a political figure on the right who is currently more popular. (well, maybe Reagan is, but I doubt he’s going to be running in 2012)

    Step out of the echo chamber now and then. Take a nice deep breath in the fresh air of reality.

  10. steve says:

    Sorry James. The way Republican primaries are set up, she will be your nominee in 2012. Favorables matter more than unfavorables in a primary. You have some big choices coming up.


  11. john personna says:

    Related: The Perils of American Stupidity

    (A little over the top, but then sometimes that’s needed to shift perspective.)

  12. Robert Bell says:

    James: “despite every move seemingly calculated to make her less plausible for the presidency”

    Sarah Palin has the best national brand awareness, and the people that like her, *really* like her, so it seems to me that the moves that make her less plausible in your eyes don’t seem to matter to her numerous supporters. She does seem to stay in the news via her use of social media, not unlike Barack Obama during his campaign, so perhaps campaign technology is a more important requirement for “plausibility” than more traditional metrics.

  13. JKB says:

    Well, let’s hope the elite republicans are smart enough to find a real candidate if they don’t want Palin. If they run someone like Mitt “Obamacare was my idea” Romney, then the only alternative is to write-in Palin for the election. And well, write-in is the new republican way. There are some interesting young republican office holders, they have a chance but no one from the last cycle save Palin would be a good idea for the nominee. They ran and lost against the most unqualified democrat ever, unless having a degree from Harvard is the distinguishing qualification. Even worse, they offered no hope.

  14. john personna says:

    There seem a dearth of good candidates in general. Is everyone tainted, by an affair, by an illegal maid? The small stuff?

    Maybe we should just get beyond some of that, and back a candidate who says “yeah, so what?”

  15. I’m slowly coming around to the notion that she aims to do so, despite every move seemingly calculated to make her less plausible for the presidency

    I think she’s going to run too. What I’m not sure yet is if she’s going to run because she wants to win or because it strengthens her media brand.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    “Basically, all he has left in his corner are…communists…”

    Oh yes, this is telling it like it is…in Bizarro World…

    “After what Obama has done to the country, by 2012 the country may be in the mood for anyone but him, especially a woman who has been a former governor.”

    Someone definitely is kidding himself…

    “The GOP is going to win back the House tomorrow by default, not because it is offering superior policies to Obama (with the notable exception of Paul Ryan, of course).”

    What particular policies of Ryan are “superior”, pray tell…