Just to be clear at the start, I like Governor Sarah Palin very much. I was delighted when Sen. McCain picked her as his running mate in 2008. She is a significant, outstanding leader in American politics who has accomplished some very good things for conservative principles, and I hope will accomplish still more. But for the good of her country and of the conservative movement in which she has come to play such a significant role, she should not run for President of the United States in 2012. I hope very much that she does not – that other serious conservatives such as Senators DeMint and Rubio urge her not to. A Palin candidacy – whether she won the nomination or not – would greatly increase the chances of President Obama’s reelection and potentially seriously undermine the conservative influence within the Republican party.
If Sarah Palin runs for President, she effectively hazards all her political capital and all the influence of the Tea Party she represents in one gamble which we are far too likely to lose. Let’s be clear about what the Tea Party is: It is the liveliest, most effective grassroots movement in America today, but (despite its loyalty to traditional American beliefs) it does not represent a majority of the American people. It is a movement within the Republican Party which has shifted the party to the right and successfully promoted conservative candidates. Palin and her fellow Tea-Partiers were often successful in helping their candidates win election, but not always. The lesson of the Senate races in 2010 is that Tea Party influence has its limits in a general election, and that we cannot afford to run candidates with unnecessary weaknesses for the opposition to exploit. It would be unwise to test the limits of its power in a Palin candidacy. She is the chief representative – almost the embodiment – of the Tea Party. If she ran and lost in either the primary or the general election –which seems highly probable – the movement would be greatly weakened and effectively discredited in the minds of Republican leaders, the media, and – most importantly – ordinary voters. If, on the other hand, she uses her influence strategically and purposefully to enlist and support viable conservatives (in the presidential race as well as others) she can continue to strengthen her party, and build up her own influence to boot.
Even Palin’s path to the Republican nomination would not be easy, and the battle could be deeply damaging to Republicans and to the Tea Party. After all, current polls only show her gathering about 15%, still decidedly below Mitt Romney. Her entrance would almost certainly cause the opposition to her to unite around Romney (including those who might prefer a more conservative candidate but fear a Palin loss to Obama). The campaign could be seriously damaging to the party, and she very well may not have enough support to win. Usually, the second-place for the nomination is considered a serious contender in the next election, but this “conventional wisdom” would not apply to Palin, who is hardly a lesser-known contender seeking name recognition but rather the central figure of a recognized movement. If she were to fail in a nomination bid, the Tea Party would be seen as marginal and relegated to the sidelines of American politics. Moreover, her supporters would struggle to rally around her primary opponent and the GOP would run a serious risk of an independent run by someone such as Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann – handing Obama reelection on a silver platter.
Even if Palin were unquestionably able to secure the Republican nomination, she would be a dangerously weak candidate in a general election. Governor Palin is intelligent, principled, patriotic, and right on most of the issues. She is also deeply unpopular. Polls show most Americans – even most Republicans – have an unfavorable opinion of her; head-to-head against Obama she is consistently polling below 40% — indicating a serious deficit even if the polls are somewhat oversampling Democrats. This is an indication of everything that is wrong with America today – the outrageous bias of a liberal media and the casual, undiscerning acceptance of its storyline by the broader public. Still, there are factors (an aggressive style, discomfort with interviewers, cultural disconnect with certain parts of the country, perhaps others fair and unfair) which have contrived to make her uniquely a lightning-rod figure, with every indication that most Americans would vote against her.
Palin herself has not usually seemed at all bothered by this, and with the mission she has given herself she has had no reason to be. Since quitting the governorship of Alaska, she has focused on the task of keeping Republicans honest, of fighting within the party against those who fail to stand for conservative principles. (There’s still much work to be done there.) She has been largely successful – but this campaign itself and the way she has carried it out have not equipped her to be the best standard-bearer to appeal to the general public against Barack Obama. Remember, we are not able to choose someone just to “take the fight” to Washington against Obama and his allies. America is a nation that is bitterly divided on many essential issues and where most people receive their information filtered through sources opposed to conservative principles; the Republicans are already up against probably the most massively funded smear campaign in history. We are, first of all, in a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people, with the future life of our nation hanging in the balance. It is essential, then, that we choose a leader who is adept at winning hearts and minds. Or, put more practically, we need a nominee who can not only defy the media but can use it and deftly avoid verbal traps, who can debate policy details effectively off the cuff on CNN and answer President Obama and Harry Reid and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz in a way which appeals to uninformed, hesitant, middle-of-the-road Midwesterners and Floridians and Pennsylvanians. This is one essential strength which Sarah Palin simply does not have and has not sought to develop.
As a conservative star within the Republican party she has not particularly needed it – she has other strengths But in this crucial election, there is no justification for expending our limited resources and political capital in an attempt to raise support for a candidate most Americans have already decided against. We have the vital responsibility of defeating the Obama agenda. We cannot afford four more years of this kind of governance, and of the media and the Presidential bully pulpit pushing together for liberal ideals and false morals. Trying to nominate a person who excites us but who is unpopular with most of the country would be deeply irresponsible. This is harsh political reality: Sarah Palin almost certainly cannot win, and can do much damage if she runs and fails.
Actually, the political reality otherwise may in fact be very good for conservatives – if we fight smart. We do have viable conservative candidates who could defeat Obama in 2012. Overall, the debate within the Republican Party has shifted right since 2008. The Senate math is very much in our favor, if we choose solid candidates. If we were to elect even Mitt Romney (not my first choice) or, for example, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota as President, keep the current House, and take control of the Senate, we would have the most conservative government America has seen in a long time. We would have the most conservative government in any major Western country today or in recent history. We have a real opportunity to elect the kind of government we need: one that is serious about our fiscal situation and respects the rule of law, the Constitution, and the proper role of the judiciary. But victory is not in the least certain, and we can’t act as though it is.
We should not gamble our chances in the 2012 election by nominating a candidate who already alienates a majority of the voters whose support we must win. Sarah Palin should not run for President of the United States, at least not this election cycle. (She still has plenty of time; who knows what the next ten years hold?) Rather, she should continue to use her considerable political influence to help nominate the most conservative politically viable candidate, and to keep the Republican Party on track for the next four years. This is the best way for her to lead in the country she loves.