Sarah Palin And The Republican Divide
Sarah Palin is at the center of a divide within the GOP that could become larger even as the GOP comes closer to regaining control of Congress.
Jonathan Martin takes note of yesterday’s appearance by Sarah Palin in Anaheim as further evidence of a growing, if unacknowledged, divide in the Republican Party:
[W]hile the enthusiasm in the room illustrated the momentum Republicans are enjoying heading into November, the event also offered a vivid reminder of the fissures within the GOP that could imperil its chances for taking back the White House in 2012.
First, there is the obvious: Palin, the biggest grass-roots draw in the party, is seen as kryptonite for many general election candidates. Both Fiorina and Whitman cited scheduling conflicts, but of course they would have come to an event filled with TV cameras if they thought there was any political upside. Most striking, Fiorina was just an hour down Interstate 5 earlier in the day with John McCain — yet neither showed here. Palin has many followers here in conservative Orange County, but for the two candidates in an overwhelmingly Democratic state the imperative is now to find voters in the center of the electorate — something the Alaskan has little capacity to help with.
There were signs, sticker and literature for many local candidates but little for either of the two statewide hopefuls.
But the no-shows were only symptoms of a more fundamental problem the GOP must reckon with after this election.
Here, in a Marriott ballroom adjacent to Disneyland, was the tea party wing of the party as represented by Palin and her comrade in conservative mischief-making, Andrew Breitbart. Steele, shunned by establishment Republicans, has hitched himself to the new right movement, as well.
This is now where the center of gravity is in the GOP on both policy and politics. Conservative activists, radicalized by the Democratic leadership in Washington and egged on by Fox News and talk radio, are in a confrontational mood and attribute their difficulties in the past two election cycles only to being insufficiently true to small-government principles.
Yet there remains a powerful element within the party that is helping to fund and oversee many of this year’s elections that, while appreciative of the manpower offered by tea partiers, is wary of what some of their more flamboyant leaders and purist ideas mean for efforts to appeal to swing voters.
While this is unlikely to hurt the GOP in November except in exceptional cases like Delaware and Nevada where weak and gaffe-prone candidates remain in danger of losing seats that the GOP could have, with less extreme candidates, eked out a victory, that isn’t necessarily the case for the future. Should the GOP regain power, there is going to be obvious conflict between the incoming freshman Congressman and Senators, many of whom will be in some sense indebted to the Tea Party movement, and the GOP Leadership, whose primary objective will be to govern and to set up the electoral board for the Presidential Election in 2012. Whether it’s immigration, or the budget, or a wide range of issues, it’s easy to see how conflicts would develop between the leadership and the 2010 freshman class.
And then, there’s Sarah:
Palin has been citing the 40th president and conservative icon more frequently of late, including at a private speech earlier this month in Florida in which she pointedly reminded a group of prominent Republicans that naysayers said that Reagan wasn’t electable.
Yet should she pursue a presidential bid, Palin faces a rehabilitative project that will be more difficult than anything Reagan had to do. Consider 1978, the midterm election cycle between his two presidential runs. He was welcomed on the campaign trail and not just for movement conservatives. Reagan, for example, stumped for party moderates such as Illinois Sen. Charles Percy that year.
As Saturday demonstrated, that plainly isn’t the case for Palin.
Palin will be in Orange County, Fla., next week for a similar fundraiser and rally.
But if she has any events planned for candidates, they’ve not yet been announced — illustrating her limited appeal among general election voters. She’s done nothing in the 2010 cycle to demonstrate an ability or desire to appeal to anyone beyond those who are already fervently devoted to her.
This has been part of Palin’s playbook all along, of course, but it creates the potential of creating a serious divide in the GOP if Palin does indeed run for President. While she has a vocal cadre of supporters, she also has incredibly high unfavorable ratings, and even many Republicans aren’t thrilled with the idea of her being their nominee in 2012. Based on the way the Delaware Senate Primary worked itself out, one can easily see Palin and her supporters taking up the claim that those who oppose her are “RINOs,” or that they’re opposing her simply because she’s a woman. It’s a bogus charge, but it proved to be a fairly effective weapon for O’Donnell supporters to shut down dissenting voices who were pointing out, correctly, that she had no realistic chance of winning or that her past was questionable at best. Expect the same kind of attacks from Palin supporters against Republicans who dare to oppose a Palin Presidential run in 2012.
It will be chaos, and it will likely lead to President Obama’s re-election in 2012.