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Sarah Palin: The Future of the Republican Party?

Sarah Palin is attempting a big political comeback. Could she be the future of the GOP?

Sarah Palin
Photo by Gage Skidmore: Former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

When John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate it created a political phenomenon.

“Palinmania and the media dynamics it unleashed were a quantum force,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin wrote in Game Change, referring to the 2008 election. Palin was “a phenomenon so new and fascinating to the press and public that it eclipsed even [Obama].” But Palin, whose entrance upon the national stage was greeted with fascination, is now staging a political comeback – which is mostly eliciting wary eye rolls.

The Palin Problem

Palin has become something of a punch-line. Well, no thanks to Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live impression, Palin is very much a punch-line.

But it’s not entirely Palin’s fault.

Palin, who captured the governorship of Alaska after serving two-terms as the mayor of Wasilla, was not even remotely qualified or ready to run for the vice presidency (nor did the McCain team set Palin up for success).

Palin’s selection as McCain’s ticketmate was a desperate, last-minute, politically-motivated stunt. The McCain team didn’t even take the time to vet Palin; they assumed that a sitting governor would have some basic policy coherence. What McCain’s team found – and what the rest of America gradually discovered – was that Palin was not a serious politician.

She was superficial; she fit the stereotype of a former beauty queen; she didn’t know anything.

Encapsulating the problem was Palin’s foreign policy knowledge. Immediately following Palin’s addition to the ticket, McCain’s team started to get a sense of how limited Palin’s knowledge of international affairs was – which is understandable; Palin was barely removed from the mayorship of Wasilla, Alaska – a role in which geopolitics are not especially relevant. But, as a prospective vice president, serving beneath a 70-something-year-old McCain, who had made foreign policy the bedrock of his campaign, Palin would need a basic understanding of the world around her.

“You guys have a lot of work to do,” a McCain aide warned. “She doesn’t know anything.”

So, McCain’s team “sat Palin down at a table in [her] suite, spread out a map of the world, and proceeded to give her a potted history of foreign policy. They started with the Spanish Civil War, then moved on to World War I, World War II, the cold war, and…Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war on terror.”

Palin’s running mate, of course, was running on the premise of exerting maximum effort to win the ongoing Iraq War; McCain, a former fighter pilot and POW, had endorsed the troop surge and was adamantly hawkish about the doomed conflict. Palin needed Iraq pointed out to her on a map.

The Palin Strengths

Yet, Palin had her strengths, too. Without question, Palin had some political appeal – and even some savvy.

During the 2008 GOP convention, she wowed the crowd, earning roaring applause. During Palin’s convention speech, she demonstrated for the first time to a national audience an enviable skill set; Palin had the ability to criticize without being perceived and labeled (rightly or wrongly) a “bitch” – a feat Hillary Clinton had proven incapable of throughout the 2008 campaign. Palin “was glamorous, homespun, spunky, and snarky,” Heilleman and Halperin wrote. “She described herself as “just your average hockey mom.” And she criticized Obama relentlessly – yet charmingly.

“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities,” she began before calling the DNC nominee “an elitist, an egotist, a taxer, a spender, an appeaser, and an accomplishment-free zone.”

Palin: A Bad Idea? 

Ultimately, however, the 2008 campaign revealed in short order how irresponsible the Palin-VP decision had been.

In many respects, Palin was fully incompetent – and more, at times, she appeared mentally unbalanced. The McCain team came to believe that their VP pick was “unfit for high office.” Several of McCain’s lieutenants agreed that should McCain win in November they would have to address the Palin situation; Palin would need to be relegated to a ceremonial role. “It was inconceivable that Palin undertake the duties of a Gore or a Cheney – or that, if McCain fell ill or died, the country be left in the hands of a President Palin,” Heilleman and Halperin wrote. “Some in McCainworld were ridden with guilt over elevating Palin to within striking distance of the White House.”

Now, fourteen years later, Palin is making a bid to return to elected office, appearing on the ballot in November’s general election for Alaska’s only House seat. Palin is competing with Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola to overtake the seat Representative Don Young occupied before he died last March. Palin has an edge in that she is arguably Alaska’s most famous person. She was also an early supporter of Donald Trump, which could give Palin a powerful ally.

But as the McCain team deduced, Palin is unworthy of higher office – her election to congress would be a disservice to the people of Alaska.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Scottfs

    August 18, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    Mentally unbalanced? LOL.

    Why don’t you set your sights on the unelected senile doofus occupying the White House…on the rare occasion he’s not eating ice cream in Delaware?

    Palin on her worst day is a thousand times better than the guy who shakes hands with ghosts, and can’t get his jacket on without help. LOL.

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 18, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    She was the only reason I voted for that liar McCain. She was a serving Governor, and criticisms of her lack of experience apply more to politicians with no executive experience than to a Mayor to Governor to VP politician. And foreign policy experience can only be gained working in the Executive Branch anyway.

    Trump did a great job in foreign relations, ISIS, Kim Jong Un, Tariffs, border wall, Iran, the Abraham accords, etc. and he had no foreign policy experience, just executive and negotiating experience. Every Authoritarian and dead beat Democracy feared him.

  3. Oh boy

    August 18, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    The half-term quitter is an embarrassment to humanity, but far right loons don’t care how dumbed down our representatives might be. Just hate democrats and burn books.

  4. GhostTomahawk

    August 18, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    And yet you omit Kamala Harris. What was she put there for? A woman of color hood ornament for Pedophile Joe to show the country he wasn’t a racist anymore.

    Yes Palin wasn’t a polished politician. Yes she wasn’t versed in foreign policy. Does that make her unfit for higher office??

    Nancy Pelosi is a polished politician allegedly well versed in foreign policy and I find her to not be worthy of public office. Would you buy lemonade from Nancy or Sarah? Exactly. If it comes down to believability I’d trust the person I’d buy lemonade from over the person who is obviously conducting insider trading scams using her husband as a smoke screen.

    It comes down to trust. Sarah may be a dilettante but I trust her. Trust is a more valuable commodity than experience or knowledge. You can acquire those or hire folks.

  5. Fluffy Dog

    August 18, 2022 at 5:22 pm

    This is addressed to the author, Mr.Kass.
    First, we come to this site for military rather than political commentary. Whether political comments are Right or Left, they are not welcome here by us, readers. Post them elsewhere.
    Second, Palin has more foreign policy understanding than the entire Foggy Bottom. Foreign policy is like a street fight: first, you win the fight, and then you “negotiate.” Palin understood that. The SNL mocked her for Tina Fey’s comments about Russia, and then the entire media crowd joined in. They had the most fun when Palin said that if Russia was not stopped after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Ukraine would be next (I happened to have the same view, and so did my friends). The entire Left had lots of fun with that. It would be nice to remind the blue-and-yellow toting Left of their Palin mocking campaign today.
    Third, and last, I would like to point out that Obama did not know geography in 2008, nor does he know it now, after 8 years in office. Geography can be learned, but the psychology of a fight is mostly an inborn quality. Take my word for it; I had plenty of them growing up. And incidentally, it also applies to military decision-making.

  6. MN

    August 19, 2022 at 6:24 am

    This woman is, to put it mildly, not the sharpest blade in the drawer. The problem is that Americans have a tendency to vote for the most idiotic candidates they can muster up.
    Start WW3 before it is too late… and prevent the next American presidential elections…

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