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Will Sarah Palin Ever Be President? A Guide to the Predictions

5 years ago
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The beginning of Sarah Palin's book tour last week felt in almost every respect like the beginning of a new campaign. No one knows exactly where Palin is going next in politics, but everyone agrees she's going somewhere, and probably sooner rather than later. Will she be the Republican nominee for president in 2012? Could she ever win a presidential election? There are as many answers to those questions as there are pundits. So, here's a handy cheat sheet on who thinks what about Palin's presidential future. I have summarized their arguments published in columns and blog posts.

Marc Ambinder
Politics Editor, The Atlantic

President Palin is a stretch, but a political comeback is not. Either way, she has some work to do: There's no evidence Americans want a proudly ignorant "common sense" candidate, and polls show significant swathes of the electorate having concluded she is unqualified. So far, she shows no sign of awareness that her 2008 persona will not cut it in the future. On the other hand, the conventional wisdom that says she'll never be president is wishful thinking. "If Palin gets smarter and more serious, if she embraces reality, then she can probably change the perception that many Americans have of her."

Carl Cannon
Deputy Editor, Politics Daily

In 1988, he was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and was jeered off the stage for his long, boring speech nominating Michael Dukakis. Four years later, the Democrats in New York were deliriously happy that Bill Clinton was their presidential nominee. The reason is that in the cauldron of the 1992 campaign, Clinton had convinced his party he could win in November. That is Sarah Palin's task. And in my view, her greatest challenge is not answering her critics' complaints about her gravitas or proving to liberals that she's as smart as they think they are. It's explaining why serving slightly over two years as governor of Alaska in any way qualifies her to be commander in chief -- and why she walked away from that job before serving out a single term.

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Contributing Editor, The Atlantic

She's too unpopular with women, including half of Republican women. Like black voters who are embarrassed by Alan Keyes, women will never back someone who could oversee a disastrous presidency that confirmed every stereotype about their demographic. Once liberals' defensiveness and urge to talk about her passes, Sarah Palin will take her rightful place as a laughing stock. Deep down, Palin knows this. Moreover, most women – conservative or not – know it, too.

Matthew Continetti
Associate Editor, The Weekly Standard

Palin is polarizing, and voters worry about her lack of experience, but she can fix both problems in time for 2012. Her overall approval numbers are low, but she does less badly among independents and nearly 70 percent of Republicans like her. A "market-friendly populist agenda" would help give her a voice on policy and make her seem less partisan to independents. Flip those percentages, and they could be serving moose burgers in the White House in 2013.

John Dickerson

Senior Political Correspondent, Slate

She comes with too much baggage, and is unlikely to appeal to many voters who fall outside her niche. At least 49 percent of Americans have a negative view of Palin, and the Republican Party is trying desperately to attract suburban women, young voters and independents. Since she quit her job as governor, Palin has no practical way to stack up accomplishments that might expand her base. The Democrats and the media want her to be a viable candidate, but the GOP knows that it takes more than tapping into frustration, and even channeling it, to win elections.

Matthew Dowd
Political Analyst, ABC News

The 2012 election will be a referendum on Obama, and, if his approval rating is between 47 and 51 percent, he runs a serious risk of losing. Polls demonstrate that Palin is a viable primary candidate, and she could easily exploit Obama's flagging approval numbers and his high negatives with Republicans. Palin's success would depend on Obama faltering and her working to reshape her political image. (Suggestions: Don't tweet so much, and remember that Reagan is dead.) The conventional wisdom is correct that a Palin presidency is improbable, but it is far from impossible. Like it or not, if Sarah Palin decides to seek our nation's highest office, she has a shot.

Ross Douthat
Columnist, The New York Times

Palin has chosen celebrity over leadership and cemented her image as a polarizing figure. Palin has sealed her identity as a culture war lightning rod: She can inspire hysteria from liberals and adulation from conservatives, but she's unlikely to persuade anyone in the middle to trust her with the reins of government. No one in the Republican Party at the moment is known for their intellectual rigor or political seriousness, and Palin seems to have no intention of changing that.

Conor Friedersdorf
Columnist, The Daily Beast

She doesn't know anything about foreign policy. Palin is already on thin ice when her strongest defenders say her candidacy rests on how well she performs on "Oprah," but they ignore the fact that even if she made a series of knockout television appearances, she would still suffer from "an unprecedented lack of foreign policy experience." Unlike Barack Obama, another candidate with a fervent following and a thin resume, Palin has not offered detailed critiques of specific policies or offered any ideas of her own. Not only will she never win the presidency, the best advice she's getting doesn't even begin to address one of the most crucial presidential issues.

Matt Lewis
Columnist, Politics Daily

The people who are prematurely writing off Sarah Palin are either blinded by their ideological hatred of her or they have failed to appreciate how dramatically things can change in a mere two or three years. (Anyone who doubts how quickly things can change needs only compare the 2008 election results to the 2009 results.) Palin's chances of winning the GOP nomination are at least as good -- and probably better -- than any of her potential opponents. Sarah Palin has something that Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had: star power. You can teach someone foreign policy, but you can't give them charisma. If Palin works at it, she has the chance to make some of the so-called political 'experts' eat crow.

Frank Rich
Columnist, The New York Times

Palin cannot win a presidential election, as she is unlikely to persuade voters in the center and on the left who have already written her off as unqualified. But she taps into old, vehement resentments, and represents an anger that is larger than herself. She is a cultural figure, and culture is politics. Nominating her would doom the GOP in 2012, but Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.

Walter Shapiro
Columnist, Politics Daily

The Republican Party's electoral structure allows winner-take-all primaries, which favor candidates with momentum and popular appeal. Palin has the popularity and charisma to beat party establishment candidates and could easily use the winner-take-all primary to smother opponents. If Palin launches a 2012 race -- and survives the South Carolina primary with her aura intact -- she could theoretically sweep the winner-take-all states without ever winning a majority anywhere.

Nate Silver

Almost every factor indicates that Palin would be difficult to oppose and difficult to beat in the 2012 Republican primary. The field of GOP candidates she's likely to face is weak in comparison: Mitt Romney is an establishment figure who will never be popular with evangelicals, and Newt Gingrich was never all that popular. Mike Huckabee may get out of the way if he sees a Palin juggernaut coming. The mood of the party is clearly toward the anti-establishment extreme, and parties are more likely to run more extreme candidates against incumbents. In addition, the media will be rooting for Palin to set up a highly publicized face off between her and Obama.

Cal Thomas
Syndicated Columnist

Palin is long on victimization and short on intellect, but she may be just what Republican voters are looking for in the face of Obama's "hard-left agenda." Conservatives, Palin included, should get over seeing themselves as unfairly treated in the public square, as they have an ample voice in all of the mediums they like to denounce. If Palin can stop complaining about her treatment and get to work sharpening her intellect, she will be feared by the time 2012 gets here.
Filed Under: Sarah Palin

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