Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Long Revenge of Caribou Barbie

In case you haven’t noticed, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been loitering around Washington DC lately for myriad causes, including glad-handing Congressional officials at various events and working her newly-minted new PAC based in Virginia.

And though any governor is, of course, free to visit DC often on behalf of one’s constituents, it seems clear that Palin’s actual motive is to grease the skids for a 2012 presidential run. And while I remain highly skeptical about Palin’s intellectual chops for the White House, I do believe the governor’s backers who warn that her tenacity should not be underestimated.

Yet were Palin to run for the GOP nomination in the next cycle, she would face many of the same headwinds that helped sink she and John McCain in 2008, namely being that Palin’s appeal only seems to connect with her base, while repelling voters in the center and Reagan Democrats who might be otherwise inclined to support her. Thus, if she has a chance of competing against future GOP rivals like Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal in Iowa, Palin much establish a broader populist appeal by reaching out to voting blocs outside of her traditional, right-wing scope.

However, whether Palin and her advisors will be smart enough to recognize this is another matter. My guess is no.

Another drawback against Sarah Palin in ‘12 is her backyard – that is, as much as she enjoys reminding us lower 48ers (ad nauseum) that she hails from Alaska, the state might as well be a foreign country. And to a great extent—considering its distance from Middle America both in terms of miles and culture—America's Last Frontier is just that. Therefore, when Palin talks up her hometown resume, I suspect many have trouble relating to it, which (again) does little to improve the her mass appeal which took such a beating last fall via Palin's jaw-dropping lack of awareness on national and international issues.

The good news for Palin here, however, is that she’s now got time to brush up on such factoids (e.g. naming a Supreme Court case outside of Roe) between today and ‘12. Not a world of time, mind you, but enough to shape a basic working knowledge for the campaign trail. And remember, if a beer-soused imbecile like George W. Bush can do it and get elected twice, so can Palin.

Finally, all of the above aside, the single greatest obstacle to Palin landing the GOP nomination in 2012—much less being elected president—is Barack Obama himself, who barring a colossal blunder (or series of them) during his first term will likely enjoy the same huge turnout (if not larger) among middle-class white voters, in addition to support from black voters determined to keep the nation’s first African-American president in office a full eight years.

This is simply a fact that both Sarah Palin, her conservative rivals, and the Republican Party itself must accept in the future: Obama is a mountain whose shadow will be very hard to avoid in future elections running up to 2016.

As such, I see the GOP doing little but wallowing in a very deep mudhole until then.

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