As 2012 begins to come onto the horizon, two question will take on increasing importance for Republicans, will Sarah Palin run for President, and possibly more important, can she win. The first is really up to Sarah Palin. She is the one that will ultimately make the decision one way or the other. On the will-run side is the fact that she is in a very unique position. People with a far less chance of winning the Presidency than she has, have found the opportunity hard to resist. On the other hand, despite what her critics say, she has shown considerable political savvy, far more than many of her pundit critics, and she may decided that she has more power and influence as a “potential” candidate, somewhat along the lines of Newt Gingrich in previous years, someone who early on seems to be running but never quite pulls the trigger. Finally, she may decide that she is still young, and to wait for 2016 or 2020 or even later. She has the time to wait.
That brings us to the second, and possibly more important question, can she win? The short answer is: of course she could. This should not be taken to mean that she is by any means a slam dunk, as she could also lose. The first issue is whether or not she is qualified to be president. She certainly meets the Constitution’s formal requirements, but does she meet the informal requirements of voters? Here again the answer is yes, at least when compared to past presidents. To see this one has only to look at the current President.
Obama had been a community organizer who had been elected to state senate, and then was U.S. Senator for less than half a year when he began running for President. He had no executive experience, and before being elected President his political experience had been in winning races where his main opponent had been kept off the ballot, Chicago style.
Sarah Palin, on the other hand was a successful mayor of a small town, and then went on to become Alaska’s first woman governor and its youngest. As an executive, she has a record of bring spending under control, fighting corruption, and getting things done, all with an approval rating in the 80s. This is what made her a rising star in the party and ultimately brought her to the attention of John McCain.
In fact, probably nothing reveals a person’s bias more than the claim that Obama was qualified, but Palin is not. Granted, there are people who think neither are/were qualified, a position bolster as Obama’s lack of experience has become clear in his handling of the presidency. Still, they are not really comparable as Obama had no executive experience, while Palin has a good record, even if a somewhat limited one.
But ultimately people do not vote for President based on resumes. If we assume for the moment that Palin does run, she will be judged on how she runs her campaign. To be sure, she will have to overcome the extremely negative press bias against her. If she is unable to do that, she will not even win the nomination.
Right now most of her critics view her through the lens of the Couric interview and Saturday Night Live skits. In fact, for many Tina Fey is Sarah Palin. But if she does run, people will begin to see her, not Fey. She will have to be very careful not to play into her critic’s image, but she has shown an ability to go over the heads of the press connect and with voters not seen since Reagan. So while the vicious press coverage, and sheer hatred of her on the left, means she will start out in a hole, she has, at least potentially, the tools to overcome this and go on to victory. It is important to remember that President Carter wanted to run against Reagan because the Democrats bought into their own political rhetoric and believed that he was, in Speaker O’Neil words, an “amiable dunce.”
So if Sarah Palin runs, she could win, but it is still only a maybe. The simple fact is that there are four main factors in any Presidential election: The candidates, their campaigns, the mood of the people, and events. For the sake of argument let’s assume the candidates are Obama and Palin and both will run good campaigns, as both have run winning campaigns in the past and no one sets out to run a bad one.
As for events, they are really unknowable. After all, one of McCain’s strongest points and probably the reason he won the nomination was his strength in foreign policy and military affairs. While known as a budget hawk, he himself admitted that he was weak on the economy. Following the conventions, McCain was in the lead, and so he looked like a good choice. Then the markets locked up, and TARP shifted the focus to economics, McCain’s weak area, and the campaign was lost. What will the events be around 2012? No one knows.
That brings us to the mood of the people, while also unknowable and subject to events; this will be the real key for Sarah Palin’s chances. Right now the mood is very much anti-Washington, anti-big government. It is also likely to stay this way, as with a divided government there is not much prospect for change. This is a perfect spot for Sarah Palin, and she does seem to be positioning herself as a real outsider candidate. On the other hand, if the mood changes, she could be running as the outsider when people are looking for an insider who can “get things done.”
So can Sarah Palin win? Certainly, but like everyone else, she has some advantages and some disadvantages, and for her to win will take a lot of hard work, a lot of skill, and ultimately some luck.