The US Presidential election of 2008 was a massive blow to the Republican Party, leaving the Democratic Party in control of all three strands of government for the first time since the 90s. In addition they saw losses across the country in local government as well, leaving the party shattered and rudderless.
For the main figures, it has been a period of quiet recovery. John McCain has returned to being a respected Senator, Mitt Romney is working the country trying to establish himself as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012, and Mike Huckabee has a TV show as the poster boy of the religious right. These figures are doing pretty well for themselves in the post-election period, but none of them is filling the void in leadership that the GOP is suffering from.
This void is where Sarah Palin should have fulfilled her destiny. Her selection as the VP candidate alongside John McCain was, and I still stand by my analysis, a stroke of genius in a dying campaign. McCain, despite the respect and affection that many people felt for him, was never going to win the swing voters - indeed he was never going to win the election, and neither was any other Republican. Numerous factors had guaranteed a Democrat win such as Bush fatigue etc, but the simple fact was that Obama's suave and slick presentation, unprecedented media management and sheer historical significance had created a juggernaut which swept all before - Hillary never had a chance once the mythical momentum had been achieved, and neither did the GOP. Heck, Jesus would have been beaten by the greater light of Obama's media induced messianic status. In light of this, the left field introduction of Palin prevented an absolute massacre on polling day, by shoring up a conservative vote suspicious of McCain's credentials. Lieberman or another VP candidate more in line with McCain's personal stance would have potentially lost him some core Republican states - Palin kept them red and saved a tiny modicum of pride for the party.
Post-election she had the chance to become the defacto leader of the Republican Party and its frontrunner for 2012. Yeah, people had rather massive reservations (to be polite about it!) about the idea of her sitting in the White House running the Free World, however four years would have presented the potential to shore up her Republican base and to reinvent herself on the national stage as a legitimate candidate.
However, if a week is a long time in politics, then the months since the election have been more than enough time for her to destroy her career.
Her star has well and truly fallen, most painfully demonstrated in the rambling speech she gave to announce her resignation as Governor of Alaska. This decision was a huge shock to political commentators, her party and indeed at points during her speech it seemed as if it was a shock to her too. Her comments that she was leaving because she was term-limited instantly destroyed her Presidential aspirations by guaranteeing that she could only ever stand for one term - by her own admission anything more would be a betrayal of the electorate. Her positive ratings in Alaska had plummeted from the stratospheric height of the mid-80s to their current status in the mid-50s, sitting alongside a virtually non-existent legislative programme. Ironically before her selection as VP candidate she had created her success on the basis of her willingness to work with political opponents and to stand up to her own party. Now, she escapes from her role in Alaska by leading pro-life talks in other parts of the US, leaving her in the position whereby neither party will work with her now in her home state.
The decision to escape from Alaska makes a certain sense on the basis that, to be brutally honest, the state does not matter in the slightest when it comes to national US politics. Indeed, it is so detached from the rest of the nation that it counts as a negative for politicians with aspirations of national office. However, her manner of doing so has undercut her position. Not only has she fatally damaged her own chances of the Presidency, but she has also destroyed her opportunity to at least become the Republican kingmaker and leader. Her handling of her resignation has infuriated and embarrassed her own party, building on top of the damage she did by comments she made about McCain and his campaign. She has built up a popularity amongst elements of the right, however others such as Huckabee remain more convincing at holding that position.
It didn't need to be this way. Following the election she had the potential to guarantee a very decent run for the nomination in 2012. She should have been blitzing the media with a positive message, making fun of the ridicule she was subjected to and ensuring that she remained the best known Republican in the country. She should have been scrutinising every single utterance from Obama's lips and building up a network of advisors who could have helped to build a consistent message and line of attack. And she should have been building up her network across the country amongst Republican activists, not just of the religious right but of the wider conservative movement, creating a groundswell of activism to counter-act the Obama factor which is already slightly dulled by the realities of government.
Instead, she has alternatively shunned and attacked the media, reinforcing the negative perception of her. She has been absent from serious policy debate, leaving others in her increasingly fragmented party to fight the GOP corner with no demonstrations of leadership qualities. And she has attacked her own party, stoking discord at a time when they required unity and foolishly picking targets like McCain to attack.
She is not completely finished, after all America is the land of second chances. However the period since the election has been wasted and has left her barely clinging on to political significance. While Romney has slickly played the conservative field, working hard to overcome the concerns about his personal religious faith, she has slowly destroyed her chances, leaving her with nothing but bridges to nowhere.
Petitions to watch | Conference of May 30, 2013
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