Late last year, I spoke with a number of Republican Party activists about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. What would she need to do to have a chance in 2012? Could she be the conservative star that the media seemed to think?
The answers were more or less the same. She was a clear talent, they said, with a lot of drawing power. There was a lot of potential there. But she still had to prove herself as a candidate. In practice, that meant doing the hard work that she had never done before John McCain picked her as a running mate–what conservative activist Richard Viguerie called the “rubber-chicken circuit” of bad Lincoln Day GOP dinners in the primary states of Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Eight months later, Sarah Palin may be taking their advice, or choosing to bow out of elected politics for good. In a hastily called news conference at her house in Wasilla Friday, Palin announced that she would resign the governorship in a few weeks to “take a stand and effect change.” Just what that will mean she left unclear, though she left little doubt that she would try to continue in public service. “We know we can effect positive change outside of government at this point in time,” she said, in a rambling, rapid-fire address, that included references to wounded soldiers, “political bloodsport,” and her background as a high school basketball player.
She compared herself to a point guard who being picked away at by a “full court press” from “the national level.” Palin explained how that metaphorical point guard should respond. “She drives through a full court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket, and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win,” Palin said. “And that is what I am doing, keeping her eye on the ball that represents sound priorities. Remember they include energy independence, and smaller government, and national security and freedom. And I know when it’s time to pass the ball for victory.”
Palin’s description of a full court press from the national media and political establishment is hardly an exaggeration. Within the last week, she has withstood a withering Vanity Fair profile, the leaks of once-private, unflattering emails she sent to McCain campaign staff, and a public cat fight between former McCain advisers that dealt with her role in the campaign. Meanwhile, in Alaska, she has been beset by continuing state sniping from both political parties, ongoing ethics complaints and the recent controversy over the the state’s public health director, who said she was forced out because she did not agree with Palin’s stand on social issues.
At the same time, Palin has struggled with the logistical challenge of trying to commute to the lower 48 states from Alaska for public events. In her comments Friday, Palin said she did not want to waste “public dollars and state time” in the second half of her first term or “accept that lame duck status” that politicians sometimes face. “I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous,” she continued. “In response to asking, ‘Hey, do you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all of our children’s future from outside the governor’s office?,’ it was four yes’s and one ‘hell yeah,’ and the hell yeah sealed it.” Palin has five children; the youngest, Trig, was born in 2008.
Palin gave no hints as to whether her future of public service would involve a campaign for the presidency in 2012. In recent weeks, the potential field of Republican candidates, has narrowed, with the admission by two potentials, Nevada Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, of extramarital affairs. If she does decide to run for future office, Palin will now face the challenge of explaining to voters why she should be president of the United States despite serving less than three of the four years of her elected term as Alaska’s governor, and spending months of her second year as governor campaigning for the vice presidency.