Would Not Running For POTUS Make Sarah Palin Irrelevant?

Her appeal is not her ideas, policies, or achievements but her personality and appeal to the red meat base.

Writing in response to Steve Kornacki’s piece at Salon, which Steven Taylor wrote about here at OTB earlier today, John Sides argues that, even if she doesn’t run for President and lose as Kornacki postulates, Sarah Palin would still become largely irrelevant once the GOP actually chooses a nominee:

[H]ere’s another way to make Palin disappear: have a presidential election in which she is not a candidate.  The surest way to sideline any prominent Republican politician between now and November 2012 is for them not to enter the race.  Indeed, even those that do enter the race will be sidelined by not winning.  The candidates, and then the ultimate nominee, will suck up virtually all of the oxygen.

In support of his argument Sides provides this Google Trends Chart, which shows news mentions and searches of Palin online (represented in blue) declining as the GOP race has started to heat up while those of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney (red, green, and orange respectively) have increased and largely outpaced Palin:

Essentially, Sides argues, if Palin doesn’t run she’ll gradually continue to fade in relevance, and interest to the media, as the GOP race heats up, and especially after the nominee is chosen. On some level, Sides’ argument makes sense. If Palin doesn’t run in 2012, the media, which is going to be spending the next 15 months obsessed with political news, polling, and candidates, isn’t going to be paying nearly as much attention to her as it did in the past. If a Republican wins the Presidency in 2012, this is likely to continue.

But does that mean that Sarah Palin is finished, or that she’ll necessarily disappear? I don’t necessarily think so, at least not as long as the Republican Party remains in the condition it is today.

While I’m not sure that a Google Trends chart is the best indication of the phenomenon that Sides is trying to examine, it’s worth noting that Palin’s standing in the search volume index now isn’t much different than it was a year ago. There have been spikes throughout the past year, usually when Palin was doing something (i.e, the Memorial Day Weekend bus trip) or when she was in the news, which explains the spike in January in the wake of the shootings in Tucson. It’s not like she’s less of a news draw now than she was a year ago, and given her popularity inside the GOP and the Tea Party movement, it seems unlikely to me that she’d just fade away unless she chose to do do so. As long as she has a platform on Facebook, Twitter, and Fox News Channel, she’ll be able to speak to her fan base, and that will keep her relevant inside the GOP no matter what happens in the 2012 elections.

Even if the GOP wins the White House in 2012, one could see Palin sitting on the sidelines (because we all know she’d never lower herself to accept a cabinet position) criticizing the Romney or Perry White House over some policy choice or another. Her ability to rile up the base is still there, and as long as it exists and she chooses to use it she will still be a force inside the Republican Party.

Sarah Palin became popular not because of the force of her ideas, most of which are borrowed sound bites inserted into stump speeches, nor because of her extensive record of achievements in office, but because she appealed to the red meat base of the GOP and because she exploited the celebrity status that her distinction as the first female GOP Vice-Presidential candidate granted to her. As long as she chooses to continue to exploit that for fun and profit, the idea that she’s just going to disappear from the political scence is sheer fantasy.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Politicians, Sarah Palin, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. Boyd says:

    And yet, despite already being largely irrelevant, you and Steven keep posting about Governor Palin. I think you two and others will keep her in front of the public for much longer than she merits. In fact, all y’all have already done that.

  2. Fiona says:

    The quickest way to render La Diva Palin largely irrelevant would be for the mainstream media to stop covering her every little brain fart or reality TV act as if it were news. She’d still have her audience on Faux News, Facebook, and twitter, where she could preach to the declining number of people who actually care what she thinks, but the rest of us wouldn’t have to be bothered by seeing her face on yet another article about her latest publicity stunt.

    If she runs, she’ll stay in the spotlight (and this would be the major reason she runs). But if she bows out, then the press and the blogs can stop ruminating about her political fortunes, and she can fade back into her little right-wing fake populist cave, speaking only to the converted. It can’t happen soon enough. This nitwit’s fifteen minutes of largely undeserved fame has been extended for far too long.

  3. Argon says:

    Where’s Joe-the-plumber when you need him?

  4. Dodd says:

    I think running would ultimately render her irrelevant. Because I don’t think it’s likely that she could win. Her name recognition asymptotically approaches 100%, but her negatives are high. Fairly or unfairly (FTR, I’d say it’s some of both), she has been tarred with a reputation in the media that makes it all-but-impossible for her to significantly improve those negatives.

    She has potent kingmaker status now and there’s no reason she’d lose that by not getting in the race. My guess is that the promised “big announcement” for Sept. 3 will be that she’s endorsing Perry, which would permanently cement him as the frontrunner once she essentially gives her loyalists who are holding out to him. Whether she’s interested in a Cabinet position or not, if he wins, helping him in such a big way at this stage of the race would position her well for maintaining her influence with his administration. She’ll already have it outside of the White House.

    Doubtless some will jerk their knees at this, but Palin isn’t stupid. She must know all of the above and that a Presidential run is therefore a longshot. The path to continued relevance for her is to stay out.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The path to continued relevance for her is to stay out.

    I repeat Dodd, “Sarah Palin is to Politico what Britney Spears is to pop music.”

    OK, I did not actually say that. I assumed that most who comment here would figure it out and that those who did not would blow up there heads.

    There heads are still intact. Ergo, they figured it out.

  6. Ron says:

    She is and always be relevant. No other politicians can equal her unique talent.

  7. Doods says:

    This lady will always be the envy of the traditional politicians. She has her own unique way of staying relevant in the political and social realms. She will run and may win big in the general election.

  8. @Boyd:

    And yet, despite already being largely irrelevant, you and Steven keep posting about Governor Palin. I think you two and others will keep her in front of the public for much longer than she merits.

    I have written a grand total of two posts about Palin in roughly the last month (see my archives here). This is to be considered excessive in some way?

  9. jan says:


    A well thought out post, Dodd. I agree with most of the points you make.

    As you indicated, Palin’s political placement would be better served on the sidelines, with the power of making endorsements, versus being on the frontline as a controversial and excoriated candidate.

    I’ve also felt it was possible that her big announcement could be throwing her support towards Perry. But, to second guess SP is never a sure thing.

    Whatever happens, I think Palin is going to be on the political stage for some time to come. She has a steadfast fan base, much like Ron Paul’s. And, unlike those who make fun of her, the woman has brains which she downplays with a folksy down-home style, very similar to that of Will Roger’s.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see her in a cabinet position (Energy Secretary), or competing for a Senate seat in either AK or even Arizona, where she has recently purchased a home.

  10. Boyd says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Your posts are so weighty and insightful, each is equivalent to several dozen from mere mortals (i.e., non-Texans).

  11. @Boyd: Well. When you put it that way…

  12. Fiona says:

    Oh please Jan–the woman doesn’t have the wherewithal to hold down a cabinet position. She’d quit after a year and a half.

    As for her endorsement value. Hmmm–let’s ask Joe Miller how much it means, especially in Alaska where she’s now hugely unpopular. Perry can win the nomination on his own without her stamp of approval. He don’t need no stinkin’ Palin endorsement and won’t be beholden to her even if she does endorse him. I also don’t think she’ll be running for senator anytime soon. At least not in Alaska.

    La Diva Palin is a publicity seeking missile–it’s her greatest talent and she exploits it for all it’s worth. But having charisma and having brains and staying power aren’t exactly the same thing.

  13. grumpy realist says:


    Jan, where do you get the idea that this woman has any brains? Certainly not from her educational record. Certainly not by how she handles herself in front of audiences. Aside from her tendency to spout word salad, this is a woman who can’t even stand up to softball questions lobbed her way by a talk-show host. (If she can’t stand up to Katie Couric, why do we think she’ll be able to stand up to negotiations with Putin?) And her continued whining about the “lamestream media” is, well, just lame.

    Most women (myself included) can’t stand her because she’s the epitome of the catty bimbo who winks and wiggles her hips to get to the top, all the while backstabbing any female in sight and whining to Daddy-boss whenever she gets any criticism from anyone at all. Admit it–if Palin looked like Golda Meir McCain wouldn’t have even thought about picking her for VP.

  14. hbouchard says:

    The comments are interesting here. I find many of the negative comments disconnected with reality. Palin’s political rise was not consistent with a desire for attention. She brought controversy on to her self because of her principles. The idea that she is irrelevant seems to overlook the November election. Her influence was clear. If you can’t see that look more closely. I remember what people thought of Reagan back in the 70’s and I see similarities. Her idea’s aren’t new but that’s why she’s popular with people like myself. She believes in American values that will remain powerful long into the future. It seems that those who are against her believe it’s time for something new, like endless deficits and constantly growing regulations. She also believes in a higher power and that bothers many. Her simple face book postings are common sense. No other politician in my life time has been so unfairly vilified. She’s not perfect and I’m sure she has been corrupted by what political power she held, but all politicians are. She is not part of the political class and it’s the political class that is destroying our country. I doubt she will fade away unless some one with similar values and a back bone emerges. Perry might be that person, but he hasn’t proven it yet. Remember how she was irrelevant when she resigned as Governor, well here we still talking about her. She is greatly underestimated.