Was Palin's Task Impossible?

Since the election, we've now had a few days of recriminations against Sarah Palin and a few days of Palin fighting back. Palin's ...
by | November 13, 2008

Since the election, we've now had a few days of recriminations against Sarah Palin and a few days of Palin fighting back. Palin's bid to repair her reputation will continue at the Republican Governors Association meeting today.

There's one argument that you can make in Palin's defense, though, that I doubt we'll hear from the governor: As a small state executive without a background in most federal policy issues, she never had a chance.

To understand what I mean, let me take you back to an argument I made in April, when I made one of the worst predictions of all time. I predicted that Sarah Palin didn't stand a chance to be picked as John McCain's running mate. Here's part of what I said:

Presidential candidates have to spend two years attending debates, giving speeches, holding press conferences and managing a campaign. That process gives voters ample opportunity to judge a candidate's readiness for the job, regardless of what is on his or her resumé.

Since they only participate in that process for a few months, running mates require a leap of faith, both from the voters and the candidates who select them. The leap is smaller if the running mate has a long record of experience.

That dynamic doesn't rule out the possibility that a recently elected governor or a small-state governor could ever win a spot on a presidential ticket. It's happened before, although Spiro Agnew isn't exactly a person Jindal and Palin's supporters should want to cite.

The argument I was making then was mainly about perception. Voters wouldn't view Palin as qualified to serve in the vice presidency because they'd be unfamiliar with her (unlike Barack Obama) and because her resumé was too thin to be reassuring.

As best as I can tell, the problem was reality, not perception. Palin was abruptly plucked out of state government and thrust into national politics, an arena where she'd never worked before. Governors can make good presidential candidates because they spend months preparing to run. Palin had hours to prepare.

A rough analogy: Imagine if I, a reporter who covers state and local government, began work tomorrow for a magazine that covers cigars. I don't know anything about cigars. Even if I'm a good reporter (a debatable proposition), it would take me weeks or months to really start writing insightful articles about cigars. Federal policy is a tad bit more complicated than cigars.

Undoubtedly, Palin's defenders will argue that her problems really were perception -- perceptions created by an unfriendly media. Palin's detractors will say that her problems were more fundamental than a lack of time to study -- that she lacks judgment, smarts and intellectual curiosity. I'm not interested in trying to resolve that dispute.

What I am interested in, though, is what Palin's candidacy means to the future prospects of governors in the veepstakes. A few governors such as Bill Richardson have enough of a background in national policy that, without preparation, they could easily enter a national political campaign. Most don't. That's far more clear now than it was three months ago.

Palin was the first governor picked as a running mate in 40 years. While I'm not going to predict that it will be 40 years until there's another one (I don't have a very good record with predictions), I do suspect that senators will have the advantage in the years ahead.

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

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