George Will goes after Sarah Palin

“Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess.”

Sarah Palin is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2012. I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t go for it – having gotten rich and famous helping John McCain lose, she might well figure that a losing Presidential campaign in her own right would be even better – and I don’t see anyone on the Republican side who could plausibly take her in a multi-candidate contest. (Isn’t it extraordinary how weak the Republican bench turns out to be? It’s a field in which Mitt Romney, the original Stepford Husband, looks like a man of gravitas.)

Now this may partly reflect wishful thinking on my part, since I also think she would guarantee an Obama landslide of 1964-1972-1984 proportions. No doubt Republican pols and power brokers see the same future, and no doubt they would, collectively, like to prevent it. But they face a collective-action problem. Getting the Palinite base mad at you is unlikely to be a good career move if you’re trying to make your way in GOP politics. So the best play for any individual is to hang back and hope that someone else does the dirty work.

Here the lack of respected elder statesmen takes its toll. Were Reagan still alive, he might have been counted on to deftly puncture the Palin balloon. But neither Bush has the capacity to do the job, though the elder probably has the inclination.

In this context, George Will’s attack on Palin’s populism may – or, of course, may not – be a straw in the wind.

Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess. Populism does not wax in tranquil times; it is a cathartic response to serious problems. But it always wanes because it never seems serious as a solution.

Political nature abhors a vacuum, which is what often exists for a year or two in a party after it loses a presidential election. But today’s saturation journalism, mesmerized by presidential politics and ravenous for material, requires a steady stream of political novelties. In that role, Palin is united with the media in a relationship of mutual loathing. This is not her fault. But neither is it her validation.

Will the Republican Establishment be able to reconstitute itself in time to stop Sarah Barracuda? And will it find an actual candidate around whom to rally? My guesses remain “no” and “no.” But I’ve been wrong before.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “George Will goes after Sarah Palin”

  1. I'd treat your statement that "Sarah Palin is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2012" seriously if you could provide evidence that you knew ANY of the following:

    1) That Barack Obama would be the 2008 D nominee in early 2006

    2) That John Kerry would be the 2004 D nominee in early 2002

    3) That George W. Bush would be the 2000 R nominee in early 1998

    4) That Bill Clinton would be the 1992 D nominee in early 1990

    5) That Michael Dukakis would be the 1988 D nominee in early 1986

    6) That Walter Mondale would be the 1984 D nominee in early 1982

    7) That Jimmy Carter would be the 1976 D nominee in early 1974

    I could go on. Sometimes one can credibly guess a party's nominee in advance. Bob Dole for the Rs in 1996 would have seemed a safe bet in early 1994, as would have Ronald Reagn for the Rs in early 1978. But for the most part, the eventual nominees for either party that has a contested race are a huge surprise based on what was known 2 years prior.

    Going through the list above we see:

    1) Barack Obama as a charismatic fresh faced outsider at the exact moment that public disgust with Washington reached a local peak

    2) John Kerry as a bland survivor at the exact moment that the other contenders imploded

    3) George W. Bush as a charismatic fresh faced outsider at the exact moment that public disgust with Washington reached a local peak

    4) Bill Clinton as the only big name D stupid/reckless/egotistical enough to enter the race when George H.W. Bush was at 91% popularity

    5) Michael Dukakis as the guy who didn't screw around on his wife and wasn't Jesse Jackson

    6) Walter Mondale as the the ambassador from Planet Gorgon who mesmerized early state primary voters with his Mind Ray Gun

    7) Jimmy Carter as a charismatic fresh faced outsider at the exact moment that public disgust with Washington reached a local peak

  2. George W Bush was going to be the candidate in 2000 by 1998. There was a reason why when he won the ridiculous Iowa Straw Poll in August 1999 everyone besides McCain dropped out. He was coronated by party insiders long before he even had to present himself to any non-Texas audience.

  3. Rob – you are absolutely dead wrong.

    George W Bush was a governor with no discernible national ambitions until after the 1998 midterms (i.e. November 1998). He didn't even form an exploratory committee until after the mid-terms.

    In the 1998 midterms the Rpublicans got trounced. Partly because of backlash against the impeachment of Bill Clinton and partly because of the rise of Hispancis as a major electoral force who turned against the Republicans big in the mid 1990s due largely to the California's GOP's flirtation with strong anti-immigrant sentiments (Hispancis were actually a highly competitive demographic until then).

    George W. Bush on the other hand won re-election in November 1998 by a huge margin. He was perceived as a guy who didn't go negative on the other party (he had earned praise for bipartisanship in Texas after all), and he actually won a strong majority of Texas Hispancis. In short, he was the perfect savior for the GOP at that moment in history. Yes, party insiders saw this and rallied around him after the 1998 midterms, effectively making it impossible for anyone else to get the 2000 nomination, but that did NOT happen in EARLY 1998, which is the correct temporal analog for where we are today.

  4. BTW, this George Will post is a twofer; the right always hates real populism, because it might hurt the rich. Faux populism is good, but now it's time to lay off the poooor ol' Wall St oppressed multimillionaires.

    Mark: "Sarah Palin is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2012. I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t go for it – having gotten rich and famous helping John McCain lose, she might well figure that a losing Presidential campaign in her own right would be even better …"

    I can come up with a few – first, losing twice to Obama is likely to be damaging, and end her Faux News career; she'd no longer be beloved of the Tea Baggers. Second, losing in the primaries would be damaging; she'd have to work against other Republican politicians. As it was, she was uplifted after McCain did the dirty work. Third, she's got a sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet spot in Faux News, which probably pays a lot, and would continue until at least Nov '12. I've heard that they built a mini-studio in her house, so that her commute to 'work' would be ~nada. If she stays out, she gets to lord it over the contenders, draw money for doing so, and play games with support – she could damage a candidate, she could help a candidate, and she could always jump on the winner, as soon as one is apparent.

    Two things that have been proven beyond a doubt is that she doesn't finish a job, and she doesn't like work.

    Being a candidate from Nov '11 on is hard work, and a long road.

  5. I don't know. I honestly doubt Sarah Palin's organizational ability to pull a primary campaign off. I realize there aren't a lot of other attractive candidates, but nobody really expected McCain to win the primary as convincingly as he did, and I don't think Palin has the pit bulls behind her that were so important to GWB. They know where their bread is buttered and it isn't by giving her and her tea party base actual power.

  6. I think that even Sarah has to have some idea of her own limitations at this point. If she run, she'll have to stand up there on the stage with all the other GOP hopefuls and answer actual questions. She'll need to go out and speak in front of crowds that may not be so friendly and engage with the voters. She'll need to raise a lot of money and run a complex primary machine. Nothing in her CV shows that she can do any of these things.

    If she runs, she'll embarrass herself. Moreover, the GOP establishment will find some old head with plenty of gravitas and conservative bonafides, but no chance of winning the nomination, to run so the he can get up on that stage with her and stick the knife in until she bleeds out all over the floor.

    Playing the will she/won't she game keeps her in the public eye, but when push comes to shove I think she'd rather sell her endorsement to the highest bidder than enter into the snake pit herself.

  7. $arah doesn't even know what she wants and would go whichever way the wind blew, or with whomever paid her the most…I doubt the winds will blow her into the whitehouse….the Republicans can't be in THAT sad shape. I mean, this is SATIRE, right?

  8. Palin could step onto a land mine at any time. If, for example, she were to breathe a word of sympathy or understanding for the Austin pilot who crashed his plane into the IRS, after having written a rant that talks about "taxation without representation," and the need for the people to "wake up and revolt," that could be a fatal misstep. One of these days she is likely to say something that will stick to her in a way that will be her political end. Not on Fox, of course.

    But the conservatives are meeting right now in DC; let us watch and see what they say about this incident in Austin. If it had been Mustaffa Islamabomb crashing into a National Guard armory, we know what they would say. CPAC could really damage itself if they say the wrong thing here. Stay tuned.

  9. On the one hand, Palin can make such a fruitful living for herself milking that sliver of the population that actually believes in her, that it’s hardly rational for her to put herself through the wringer of a Presidential campaign where she needs to appeal to a majority.

    On the other hand, we have ample evidence that Palin herself is hardly rational.

  10. Palin is mostly loved by the right for who her enemies are, not for who she is. That will get you a foot in the door, but not much more. I don't think she's got what it takes to go the distance, and what's more, I don't think SHE believes she's got what it takes. She folded when they started going after her family, and has to know they'll do it again.

    Not going to happen.

    If the tea party movement has any say in the matter, it's not going to be one of the usual suspects, deeply complicit in everything that's gone wrong with the GOP. AND it's not going to be somebody with a proven record of folding under pressure. Probably somebody like Butch Otter or Bobby Jindal. A Republican governor with a conservative record. Ron Paul will probably make a run for it again, hopefully without the GOP apparatus turned against him this time. (The rules were abused terribly to reduce his delegate count.)

    Really, it does depend on the extent to which the tea party movement manages to penetrate the GOP establishment. That establishment would rather run a loser they know won't upset the apple cart, than a winner who wouldn't play along. If they're still in control of the process come 2012, Obama can be fairly confident of a second term, unless he's really managed to inflate this recession into a depression.

  11. Looks like Scott Brown may have stepped on that land mine in Austin, rather than Sarah Palin; he told an interviewer that this kind of taxpayer frustration was what sent him to Washington. But land mines are strewn throughout the political landscape, and sooner or later she will step on one.

    The Confederacy began to come unglued long before the Civil War ended, dying of its own sacred cause, states' rights. The Tea Party will come unglued due to its own sacred causes too–no one wants to be part of a large organization.

    People may not be in the mood for a revolution in 2012, and that could be good news for someone dull and vacuous–like the Mittster. You can bet your virginity it won't be Palin.

  12. A Scott Brown is far more likely to step on those land mines than somebody like Palin; Palin actually shares a lot of views with the tea party, while Scott Brown was an alliance of convenience. Not having a very high opinion of his allies, he will naturally have a low opinion of what needs to be said to appeal to them. You see that a lot among Republicans who need conservative votes, but who aren't really conservatives: They try appealing to liberal stereotypes of what conservatives want, lacking any real insight into the views of conservatives.

  13. I suspect that the GOP will nominate another bland candidate like they did in 2008, maybe a RINO like Mitt Romney. The right will go nuts and the Tea Party will run Sarah Palin as a third party candidate. Much like 1992 and H Ross Perot, Sara will cut the conservative base off from the GOP nominee and hand the election to Obama. This will cause the right to turn on Palin for ruining the 2012 campaign. "Should have been a slam dunk" they will say.

    At least that's my say. Mark it down, and check back in November 2012, we'll see if I am right.

  14. As I said, depends on how successful the tea party movement is with it's current efforts to take over the GOP from within by electing precinct delegates. Which depends, unfortunately, on whether the party establishment is willing to be taken over; I was part of a similar effort in Michigan in '94; We ran a bunch of precinct delegate candidates, and when our winners showed up at the state convention, the party seated the losers in their place, and had our guys escorted out by the police. Hopefully this won't be repeated, I don't think the tea party movement would take it as peacefully as we did.

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