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Sarah Palin: Do We Hear Sighs of Reluctance About 2012?

3 years ago
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WOODBURY, N.Y. – After weeks in the shadows with only a flicker of Facebook postings, Sarah Palin emerged Thursday for a lucrative and surprisingly revealing question-and-answer session before the Long Island Association, a business group used to hosting former presidents. During an hour in which she was quizzed in a more probing fashion than is often the norm on Fox News, Palin proved that she can create more headlines from a single luncheon than are possible from six months on the Mitt Romney beat.

Palin tantalized her audience (who paid $300 and up for the privilege, with a backstage photo-op starting at $9,500) by offering her latest proclamation of uncertainty about seeking the presidency: "I'm still thinking about it. Certainly in my mind, I could not make a decision yet." She turned a warning about inflationary pressures in the economy -- including rising milk prices -- into a bizarre swipe at the first lady: "It's no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you need to breast-feed your babies."

(Media Matters, a liberal group waging daily war against Fox News, unearthed a proclamation that Palin issued as Alaska governor hailing October 2007 as "Breastfeeding Awareness Month." As with all things Palin, a throwaway line immediately becomes the stuff of lasting controversy).

Trying to divine Palin's political intentions will continue as an anyone-can-play parlor game right up until the moment that she begins to show up to shake hands in places like Ottumwa, Iowa, or she reveals that instead of running for president she will star in "Sarah: The Movie." Palin's recent decision to hire veteran Republican operative Michael Glassner as her chief of staff was interpreted as a nod towards a presidential candidacy. But in response to a specific question Thursday, Palin insisted, "I hired a chief of staff because, to tell you the truth, Todd is kind of getting tired of doing it all for me."

Nothing is ever certain on the way to an announcement of a presidential candidacy as New York Gov. Mario Cuomo proved in late 1991 when he suddenly bowed out instead of boarding the plane waiting to fly him to New Hampshire to file the ballot papers to enter the opening-gun primary. The psychology of whether to run and gamble it all in the cauldron of ambition (Barack Obama) or to play it safe (as such winter-book Democratic contenders as Evan Bayh and Mark Warner did in abandoning their 2008 explorations) is at the mysterious heart of presidential politics.

What I heard from Palin at Thursday's luncheon were the sighs of reluctance. Two sighs, in fact, as audible as the intakes of breath that punctuated Al Gore's 2000 debate performances. It is, of course, risky to use a bridge of sighs to buttress political predictions. Still, it seemed telling that Palin twice had this involuntary reaction when she was asked about different pitfalls to a presidential candidacy.

The first sigh came when Palin's questioner -- attorney Kevin Law, the president of the Long Island Association -- asked why she was so reluctant to do public events like this question-and-answer session. Moments later, Palin launched into a rambling account of how she takes the measure of reporters (like ABC's Robin Roberts) by how they react when she demands that they interview her at her remote Alaska cabin "and hop on the snow machine with us."

Palin made this ordeal seem like the ultimate Outward Bound challenge for journalists: "We bring reporters up here and we really learn what they're made of. . . . If they put up with adverse conditions, then they're worthy of an interview, so let's talk." Of course, it is all a ridiculous gimmick, since most political reporters (even someone like me, who limits adventure travel to crossing New York City streets against the light) would sign up for snowmobile lessons and cold-weather training if the prize were an actual interview with Palin.

But what Palin's initial sigh seemed to indicate was her awareness that she cannot run for president from her Alaska TV studio augmented by her mastery of Facebook and Twitter. "Nothing is more effective," she conceded, "than being there with the people in the diners, shaking hands and hearing what they want to share with you." For all her talk about being "unconventional" and "going rogue," Palin apparently realizes that there is no way to surmount the time-consuming campaign rituals of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.

Even more intriguing was Palin's acknowledgement of "Yeah" with another sigh when Law asked about her poll numbers -- particularly a mid-January Gallup Poll that found that 53 percent Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of her. In a burst of candor, Palin admitted, "In a lot of those polls, I get my butt kicked. I don't do well in a lot of those polls." Even as she partially blamed the Gallup numbers on critical press stories following the Tucson shootings, Palin also added, "I'm not blaming that incident for my poor poll numbers. They are what they are."

Ever since her disastrous 2008 interview with Katie Couric, Palin has fed off her ideological war with the "lame-stream media," a trademark phrase that she never used Thursday. Even as Palin made light of her battles with reporters ("I have to throw in criticism about the press because that's what I do," she joked early in the Q-and-A), she appears to understand the political consequences of this war of words with the journalists who write them. As Palin asked rhetorically, "How does the public know me, though, but through the press? When the press reports things that have really, really misrepresented my record . . . then certainly the perception is out there that that person is less than qualified."

Maybe I am over-interpreting fragments. But it sounded to me as if Palin cannot figure out how she can win a Republican nomination with her poll numbers (she boasts 16.5 percent support for the GOP nomination in the rolling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics), the continuing scorn of the press pack, and her reluctance to spend most of the next year in Holiday Inns.

After the luncheon, I asked Kevin Law, who freely admits that he is a registered Democrat, if he had any instinct about Palin's intentions after watching her body language up close during his hour-long interrogation. "In my gut," he said, "I would guess that she is not running." Acknowledging the perils of prediction -- especially about Sarah Palin -- that is my instinct as well.

Follow Walter Shapiro on Twitter (lucky you).

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123 Comments

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marks the man

Please, Sister Sarah RUN - your country needs you - and Obama and the Dems will thank you from the bottom of their hearts after they trounce you and your fellow Tea Baggers in the biggest win in the history of this country.
Don't disappoint us Sarah.............it will be great fun !!!!!!!

March 01 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cs1fan

Please run for president, Sarah Palin. It will be an entertaining couple of years and a resounding victory for the democratic party. Please run.

February 24 2011 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
distanceearth

Crazy lady isn't running. She can't debate. Katie Couric stole Palin's mind.

February 22 2011 at 4:03 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to distanceearth's comment
gatroville007

Katy Couric is not as smart as you think. She had hundreds of reporters picking questions and supplying answers for her to ask Sarah Palin. Turn the table around and even I could make Katie Couric look like an idiot with simple every day questions. Katie Couric had pages of questions and answers while Sarah Palin was answering questions without any help from anyone. You say that Sarah Palin can't debate, I say that you are 100% wrong. Katie Couric would not, will not ever debate Sarah Palin on an even platform, for if she does, then you and all of your other Sarah Palin haters would see just how incompetent you beloved Katie Couric really is. One fact that is undeniable, that Katie Couric is the lowest rating on any news hour. Before you show your ignorance again research all the facts.

March 02 2011 at 12:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sysaphus71

Mrs. Palin will be asked to be Sect of Energy in 2012, and at last we will have a sensible energy policy and more home grown source of energy (the all of the above school of thought). Montana and the Dakotas ,ANWR and all the continental shelf source we can come up with. Natural gas and nuke.Along with renewable sources.
It is a question of NATIONAL SECURITY and will lower or debt more than any thing else because we are using OUR OWN SOURCES. I do not find credence in any GREENIES
positions. National security FIRST......you had your say...it is time to sit down and be quiet.

February 19 2011 at 7:58 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
brrnreferralnet

Palin scares the living day-lights out of the left in this country. Independent, smart, a mom and strong willed with a voice. She is liked by many and speaks the truth, unlike our President and most of the democratic leadership up on Capital Hill. If she runs - GREAT!, if not the President has much more contenders just waiting to run against him. When it is all said and done, the President will defeat himself. His policies are disliked by 67% of the American voters, he has spent our children and grand childrens future by increasing the debt of our country while making us the laughing stock of the free world. Unemployment is still 9% and his $890B stimulus failed to create any jobs, we actually lost 2 million jobs 2009-2010. 14.6 million Americans are out of work, 4 million foreclosures and growing, a depressed housing market and he continues to spend without concern for the majority of Americans - Great Job Mr. President, time for a change!

February 19 2011 at 5:37 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
gkellyno

PALIN IS RUNNING ALRIGHT! BUT SOME ARE CONFUSED..She is not a presidential contender but rather a BANKROLL MAKER!!!!..SHE is running to her bank often and with lots of money!!!! ADDING UP to very BIG BUCKS....
I'LL BET SHE THANKS SENATOR McCAIN FOR THAT LITTLE NEST EGG WHICH IS GROWING EVERY DAY...TIME FOR THAT THIRD BOOK....HEY, Mr, Ghost Writer, Where are you and how many chapters are finished....Should we look for a SPRING TIME RELEASE.

February 18 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
lavidaloca

does it really matter in the overall scheme of life?

February 18 2011 at 5:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
bcal1149

Sarah Palin is much more productive in the role she is currently in. She keeps all of the liberal media in a tailspin - and they dont even know it! She is more than qualified to run - and she probaably could win with the right vice-president. But I think she knows that she is more valuable raising money for conservative candidates and keeping the hilarious leftwing media hopping. They just dont know what to do with her. She is as qualified (actually more!) than the current joke administration. Touche Sarah...

February 18 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
gatorconn

I guess she doesn't know that the alternative to breast milk is formula not cow's milk.

February 18 2011 at 4:47 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
yokoach

she's desperately trying to maneuver a 'please run Sarah' movement...because she knows she couldn't be supported by the gop any other way, and they know that she'd be the deathknell for their chances either as Pres or VP candidate...she'll continue to make noise but her own ambition and ineptness coupled with her ignorance has done her in...she is/was flash in the pan, and you'll see her desperation to stay in the public eye get more and more outrageous as she watches her fame slip away...my guess, is she'll wind up with her own radio/tv show like glenn back where she can have a rabid fan base of a few million people and continue to whip them into a frenzy...

as karl rove succinctly put it..."she lacks the gravitas to be taken seriously as presidential material'... my interpretation of that statement is that she's not a big dog, she's a chihuahua and like all little dogs, they yap alot making a lot of noise but actually can't play with the big dogs...

oh, and the 'mama grizzly' analogy about how they protect their young? yup they may do that but they also feed on human garbage...

February 18 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply

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