There have been few public defenders of Sarah Palin as zealous as John Ziegler. In the wake of the 2008 election, Ziegler produced a well-received and incisive documentary, Media Malpractice, which documented the overwhelming bias in the treatment Palin received from the mainstream media, especially when compared with the treatment Barack Obama received. A loud echo of that treatment was evident in last week’s media stampede to Juneau to read Palin’s e-mails from her time as governor, a scene very reminiscent of the Wasilla Invasion of September 2008.
Today, though, Ziegler commits what might be considered an apostasy of sorts by warning Republicans not to press Palin into a nomination bid. He sees no path to the presidency for Palin in a battle against Obama:
But in spite of being approached by Sarah’s husband Todd only a month ago and specifically discussing the possibility, I won’t be working on any Palin presidential campaign. Why? Well, first of all, contrary to what geniuses like Andrew Sullivan and Howard Dean may want you to believe, there is absolutely no way that she can be elected. I’ve told this to her directly; more than once. While many pundits mistakenly think what she is doing is some Trump-like PR stunt, I’m pretty convinced she is running and in doing so will damage the prospects of any conservative defeating Barack Obama in 2012.
These aren’t my only concerns.
There’s also the fact that Sarah’s entire operation is increasingly managed like a CIA field office; that she’s adopted a bunker mentality; that she’s trusting the wrong people, some of whom I know are simply exploiting her. As a result, even those most loyal to her get tossed under the bus, with little or no effort to avoid the collateral damage. Which raises the question: if people like me who would once have taken a bullet for Sarah (and at least figuratively I did many times) can’t get behind her any more, what the hell happened?
A big part of the reason Ziegler gives in his exclusive to the Daily Caller is Palin’s resignation as governor in 2009. Ziegler defends it on the basis that Palin had no other choice for her family, and arguably for her state as well. The machinery of state government had begun to grind to a halt while the governor had to defend herself from a series of baseless complaints, and unlike other powerful politicians in the state, she had no personal wealth from which to fund a defense. Ziegler even defended the resignation that night on television, but writes today that he knew Palin would be unelectable in it the aftermath:
When I caught up with Rebecca on the phone later that day, we agreed that if you resigned after two years of a governorship, you were a ‘quitter’ in voters’ eyes. Your protests to the contrary would be futile. Your campaign was dead, especially against a preordained media deity like Barack Obama. Nevertheless, in an act that still angers my wife to this day, I rushed back to Los Angeles to do the seeminglyimpossible: be the lone defender of Sarah’s resignation on the next edition of The O’Reilly Factor. I hit a much-needed home run for her that night, but I no longer believe much of what I said back then.
Let’s face it, Palin made a great decision for her and her family, but one that disqualifies her from running for president, at least in 2012. Obama has the ultimate trump card against her: when things got tough you quit to become a rich celebrity while I was killing Osama bin Laden. Game, set, match.
The worst part about the resignation from a political narrative perspective is that it also stripped away Palin’s greatest strength. She is clearly a fighter but it is impossible to make “She will fight for you” the cornerstone of a campaign when she just quit her only big job, seemingly for personal gain.
What Palin and her many supporters apparently refuse to accept is that Palin is the Bo Jackson of modern Republican politics. She was a natural, but that talent has been taken away by circumstances beyond her control.
Ziegler calls the media kneecapping in 2008 and the partisan campaign in 2009 to force her out through bogus ethics complaints was the “injury” that took Palin out of contention. Palin’s re-emergence as a Tea Party movement leader was a role forced on her by necessity, and while that has been very successful in making Palin a power player in conservative politics, Ziegler believes that — no fault of Palin’s — it’s not enough to make her electable in a national election against Obama, no matter how unpopular the President becomes. In fact, he believes that her base is overestimated, and scoffs at the notion that a Palin campaign will change minds and attract the large number of independents and moderates needed to win a national election:
Palin supporters look at all of this and laughably claim that, if given the opportunity, she can change people’s minds. This is simply impossible. I have no doubt that, if presented with the chance, she would exceed expectations in virtually every area of a campaign (except organization), but that would hardly matter at all.
People rarely change their minds about anything anymore and everything she does will be seen through the media’s intractable prism that she is not real bright, which will inevitably foster even more alleged missteps (the classic examples of this being the absurd presumption that when didn’t tell Couric what she reads that it was because she didn’t read anything and, more recently, the flap over her take on Paul Revere’s famous ride). The new documentary about her record in Alaska is a nice idea, but unless they somehow buy network television time to air it, it will have absolutely no significant political impact.
I’m not sure I agree with Ziegler on this point. While comebacks in presidential politics are rare, they’re not unknown. Richard Nixon lost a national election, and then lost a state election two years later, which caused the media to declare his political career a dead letter. Six years later, he won a presidential election in the middle of a war. In what is by far a more attractive analogy, Ronald Reagan lost a bitter, narrow primary contest in 1976 that went all the way to the convention, and came back four years later to unite the GOP despite his age and his supposed inability to woo moderates. Neither man was known for his admiration of or by the media, either, although Reagan certainly knew how to use them better than almost anyone. The difference between those examples and Palin are significant (especially the resignation), but perhaps not fatal; a primary campaign would certainly prove the issue.
On the point of overestimated bases, polling at this stage seems to argue both ways. Without announcing for the campaign, Palin polls near the top of the primary candidates, usually just behind Mitt Romney. That could either mean that an official announcement by Palin would energize voters to abandon other lower-tier candidates and rally to her side, or that given her near-universal name recognition, she’s already hitting a high-water mark. Ziegler worries that her presence erodes the ability of other candidates that appeal to both conservatives and moderates to rise to the nomination, but that prompts a good question: if they can’t surpass Palin, can we hope that they would surpass Obama?
In any case, the most significant factors in the 2012 general election will almost certainly be the economy and unemployment. The identity of the GOP nominee will matter, but as with any presidential campaign in which an incumbent runs for a second term, the election will be mainly a referendum on the first term.
Be sure to read all of Ziegler’s essay at the DC, but let’s poll on the question here at Hot Air. Is Palin unelectable in a general election?