Ever since Sarah Palin announced her resignation from office, conservatives have debated on the merits of the choice, including in the lengthy comment threads at Hot Air. Even the Washington Examiner, one of the leading new lights of conservative media, has found itself at odds internally over Palin’s actions. Editorial page editor and longtime conservative stalwart Mark Tapscott says that conventional wisdom cannot explain Palin:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s announcement of her resignation cannot be read in terms of the conventional wisdom of politics – i.e. that she’s getting out ahead of some damaging political revelation she knows is right around the corner, she’s fed up with the constant personal attacks on her and her family, or she’s running for president in 2012 and wants to be free of the constraints of office.
A close reading of her actual words in her announcement reveals otherwise. The key fact about Palin is that she is not a conventional politician. She actually means what she says, which is why her statement must be read in light of that fact, not that she has ulterior motives. …
Palin is embarking on an independent path in nationa politics that, if she is successful, will lead to a new third force. Not necessarily a third party, but definitely a populist insurrection that could reshape American politics for years to come. Does the Tea Party Protests movement come to mind?
Prisoners of conventional wisdom almost certainly will miss the significance of Palin’s decision. But they’ve never understood why she struck such a powerful chord with everyday Americans in 2008, so we ought not be surprised that this announcement is [completely] beyond their ability to understand what is really happening.
Chris Stirewalt, the political editor at the Examiner, says that Tapscott’s missing the point. Palin’s problem has been the incessant drama, and that this only adds to her credibility problem with the majority of the electorate:
Sarah Palin learned a lot of things in her time as John McCain’s running mate — about the savagery of the media; about the duplicity of politicos; about her own gifts as a politician.
But she did not learn the most important lesson of 2008: no drama. …
David Letterman’s gross, unfunny joke about Palin’s teenage daughter, the ongoing skirmish among the former McCainiacs and the frivolous ethics complaints against her by Democratic hacks are all just part of life for Palin these days. But rather than rising above the squalor, Palin has fully engaged on each point. She stayed in the headlines blasting washed-up Letterman for days, continued to dish about the failings of McCain’s campaign and quit office blaming the ethics complaints for her departure.
There is always a lot of sound and fury around Palin, but does it signify anything other than her status as a celebrity?
Michael Barone, who is, well, Michael Barone, just throws his hands in the air:
I was astonished by Sarah Palin’s announcement that she is going to resign as Governor of Alaska. I’ve read over her “point guard” explanation for doing so, and I still don’t get it. She’s says he going to advance the causes she believes in by leaving public office? She will evidently leave office with only 16 months to go in her term (she says she’ll resign July 26 and Alaska governors take office in December); why not serve out the 16 months? It’s not that long a time. …
Some are hailing her resignation as a political masterstroke. I’m just puzzled. How does resigning as governor strengthen her as a presidential candidate?
All of these have elements of the truth. If all Palin wants to be is a speaker and activist, then her resignation as governor of Alaska won’t hurt her at all. Thanks to her notoriety, Palin will attract crowds and media wherever she goes and whatever she does. If she chooses to be chair of the Tea Party Movement, I suspect most would be happy to grant her the title, and she’d be effective at it.
If, however, Palin wants to pursue national office rather than just be an activist for the rest of her life, her resignation will prove a very messy hurdle. Alaskans trusted her with their higher office on the assumption that she would take it seriously enough to complete the term. Voters would have understood if she had to resign in January to become Vice President, but because — in her own words — she didn’t want to deal with governing as a “lame duck.” The first question in any campaign debate for Palin from now on will be, “Will you quit in the middle of a presidential term if you get disenchanted or get ethics complaints filed against you?”
Palin’s supporters might think that resigning is a brilliant strategic stroke, but those are by far not enough to get her elected President, as the last election pretty clearly showed. Palin needed to build a sober resumé as an executive, someone who could show that the media had her all wrong — someone, as Stirewalt points out, could have her substance eclipse her celebrity. Palin needed to build a broader base, not narrow it down to the true believers, and she had an opportunity to do that by finishing out her term in the tough conditions of an economic downturn. Instead, she resigned to leverage her celebrity, which will not convince current non-believers and political agnostics of her substance. Instead, it gives them even more reason to distrust Palin.
In the end, perhaps the two sides of the Palin debate have talked past each other for the last few days. If Palin wants to be freed up to give speeches and focus on the faithful, her resignation will not dim those possibilities at all. If she plans to advance in national office, though, she has to address the “conventional” as well as the unconventional to win national office, and resigning halfway through a first term is no way to go about it.