Does Sarah Palin’s Handling of This Week’s Events in Tucson Tell Us Anything about her Presidential Ambitions?

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Sarah Palin today released a video on Facebook expressing her grief and outrage over Saturday’s shootings in Tucson. She also explained her rhetoric and hit back at those who have suggested that the level of political discourse in the country is, in part, to blame for Jared Lee Loughner’s unhinged rampage. “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote,” Palin says in the seven-and-a-half minute video. “Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next.”

Palin’s been caught in the backlash of the shooting for putting crosshairs over Gabrille Giffords’ district last year in a graphic of 20 midterm districts Palin was targeting. Her first reaction was a brief post offering her condolences on Saturday. Rebecca Mansour, Palin’s speechwriter, then told a conservative talk show that the targets depicted were not crosshairs but, rather, surveyor’s symbols – ignoring the fact that Palin herself had once called them bulls eyes. “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” says John Weaver, a GOP consultant and former close aide to John McCain. “Fairly or unfairly — and I think it’s unfair that she’s been dragged into this — but this is an opportunity to give a different impression and try to repair long standing negatives.”

Palin today attempted just that. In the video, shot in front of her fireplace at home in Wasilla, she looks directly at the camera and speaks calmly and soothingly, even when striking at her critics. “After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event,” Palin says. “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”

The post showed a moment of leadership, says Mark MicKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush. “Palin’s video is a very powerful and thoughtful response. This is evidence of political maturation and evolution on her part,” McKinnon says.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee already stood apart from the field of potential 2012 candidates before Tucson– as she told me, she draws the sharpest contrast with President Obama. On the day when Obama himself is due to give a speech about the tragedy, Palin’s video strikes a tone that is rarely heard from the strident Republican: one lacking the passionate battle cries she has become known for. At the same, her message hasn’t changed and she goes after a familiar enemy: the “lame-stream media.” “Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn,” she says. “That is reprehensible.”

The Facebook post will do little to help improve Palin’s high disapproval ratings, says Todd Harris, a GOP consultant who has advised McCain, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. “It’s beautifully written but it’s message is aimed squarely at people who already agree with her,” he says.

And it did little to convince those establishment Republicans who remain dubious of her potential candidacy. “In decision after decision since 2008, Palin has simultaneously and consistently increased her celebrity status and lowered her credibility as a candidate for President,” says Matthew Dowd, another former Bush advisor. “Sarah Palin reminds of one of the long-driving phenoms in golf. She makes a good novelty act and will be on some highlight reels, but won’t ever be a tournament champion till she works on her short game and can use a putter. Drivers aren’t the best clubs in the finesse part of the game.”

All of which is to say, if she is running for President, she’s focusing on her base — and betting that base will be big enough to deliver her the nomination.

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