Can Sarah Palin Win by Running Against the Republican Party?

Sarah Palin's decision to resign as governor of Alaska was greeted with doubts, criticism and downright derision -- not just from Democrats or the ...
by | July 5, 2009

Sarah Palin's decision to resign as governor of Alaska was greeted with doubts, criticism and downright derision -- not just from Democrats or the media or bloggers, but from Republicans.

Critical responses to her decision came from many Republican insiders -- not just people who have an axe to grind such as Mike Huckabee and Lisa Murkowski, but others such as Karl Rove.

That followed criticism of Palin just before her announcement from Charles Krauthammer and Jonah Goldberg. When talking off the record, Republican insiders are even harsher toward Palin, as Marc Ambinder notes:

With a few exceptions, almost every Republican I talk to in Washington quakes at the thought of her being their presidential nominee in 2012 (although a few wonder slyly if she'll go away if she's offered up as a sacrifice that year.)

If Palin does want to run for president, having so many top members of her own party doubt her, dislike her and pretty much hope for her disappearance from the political scene is probably a bad thing. But, there's at least a slight chance that, if she's smart, she could use it to her advantage.

Palin has a message with fairly limited appeal at this point. Maybe it's just because I'm a blogger and member of the media, but her lines about bloggers and members of the media are pretty tired. Her complaints might (or might not) win her sympathy, but sympathy is a not a rationale for someone to be president of the United States. Her policy views are predictably conservative.

Here's a fresher message: I'm running against the complacent, corrupt forces within the Republican Party -- the people who take social conservatives for granted and who, when they happen to get a majority, spend like Democrats.

A lot of Americans don't like the Republican Party. In fact, a lot of Republicans are frustrated with the Republican Party too. Could Palin win by running against her own party?

There's a precedent for this sort of message. Palin used a variant of it to win the 2006 Republican primary for governor in Alaska against Frank Murkowski.

There's also a precedent for this message in presidential politics. Howard Dean was nearly the Democratic Party's presidential nominee with a message that centered on criticizing the Democratic Party. Dean earned some of his biggest applause when he criticized his own party's support for the Iraq War and claimed to represent "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Still, I have two big questions with this strategy for Palin. One is whether this message will be right for 2012. Ahead of 2004, Dean shared a real policy grievance with the rank-and-file members of his party, as Democrats objected to their party's representatives in Congress backing the war. With Republicans generally staying united in opposition to Obama, Palin may not have the opening that Dean did.

The other question is whether Palin is the right messenger. Dean, it's worth remembering, was a well-respected governor of his own small state for 12 years. Nonetheless, his bid ultimately collapsed amid questions about whether he had the discipline, temperament and depth of experience to be president. No one would be especially surprised if a Palin presidential bid failed for the exact same reasons.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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