Recently, I asked a GOP consultant, who must remain nameless here, this question: Who advises Sarah Palin? His answer: No one. Really? I asked. Yes, he said, really.
So that explains it.
Palin’s actions keep defying rational explanation. Her sudden retreat from her job as Alaska governor made her seem a quitter — especially when she couldn’t coherently justify the resignation during her surprise July 4 weekend announcement. Even if Palin’s pullout had been a reasonable decision, it seemed as if she had not consulted anyone with PR or political sense on how best to handle the controversial move.
Since then, her performance as a politician with a chance of snagging the GOP presidential nomination has been — to be polite — unsteady. On July 17, Palin, who had become a prolific Twitterer, sent out this message to her tweeps: “10 dys til less politically correct twitters fly frm my fingertps outside State site.” In other words, Palin — who had recently been quoting Aristotle and Thomas Paine in her tweets — would soon dump her AkGovSarahPalin Twitter account, which was being followed by 150,000 people, and start sharing her observations via a new Twitter feed. But she didn’t keep that promise — and has yet to set up a new Twitter account for all those folks who yearn for her 140-character messages. Why keep her base waiting? Any good adviser would have recommended that she keep the tweets flowing.
Toward the end of July, Palin found herself in another curious predicament when she apparently retreated from a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. On her Facebook page — her communications platform of choice these days — Palin maintained that she had not committed to attend the Simi Valley Republican Women’s event. Yet that GOP-gals outfit had issued a press release declaring that she had indeed agreed to speak at their shindig at the Reagan Library. As with an earlier dust-up over an appearance at a Republican fundraiser in Washington, it appeared that Palin couldn’t handle a routine scheduling matter.
Then there’s her book. A few days ago, a GOPer close to Mitt Romney, another potential contender for the 2012 Republican nomination, was laughing as we talked about Palin’s book, due out next month. He was tittering especially about its title, “Going Rogue.” That phrase was used by John McCain’s aides toward the end of the 2008 election to describe Palin’s off-message behavior on the campaign trail. “What voter wants a rogue president?” this Mitt-friendly Republican said to me, pointing out that Romney has finished a book of his own on weighty policy matters that will come out next year. Its title: “No Apology: The Case of American Greatness.”
I understand that Palin has an interest in promoting her self-proclaimed maverickness — and that she now wears her friction with the loser McCainiacs as a badge of honor. There certainly are GOP base-voters who fancy her from-the-frontier gumption. (And she endeared herself to Tea Baggers across the country by insisting that the Obama health care plan would create “death panels” for seniors — before declaring that, thanks to her, there would be no “death panels” in the plan.) But the Romney ally had a point when he remarked, “Do most Americans want rogueness or greatness?”
Will Palin use her books to score revenge points? (Levi Johnston, this means you!) Will she dish dirt on inside Republican politics? Will she have anything original to say about policy matters? (“My quick-and-easy five-step plan for winning the war in Afghanistan.”) The Palin story has become a popular media soap opera. If she ignores the trashier aspects of this ever-titillating tale, she will disappoint a lot of people. Yet if she does address them, who’s going to pay attention to yet another drill-baby-drill plea? If Palin has any hopes about a future in politics — and maybe she doesn’t — getting this book right is a tough challenge for her. It will receive one hell of a cross-examination from different audiences, including journalists, pundits, GOPers, Democratic and Republican oppo researchers, Levi Johnston, voters who read, and maybe even a chastened David Letterman. If Palin hasn’t obtained solid advice about how to handle this book, she will be in perilous territory.
And there’s no sign that such advice is within her reach. Just in the past few days, she fell into an unnecessary scuffle with the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Bob McDonnell. After he said that Palin wouldn’t be campaigning with him because she was “busy with books and other things like that,” Meg Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Palin, said that was not the case. Stapleton went on to explain in great detail how McDonnell had tried several times to enlist Palin’s assistance and that Palin had said she’d be delighted to join him on the campaign trail. But, Stapleton added, McDonnell sent word in early August that Palin was no longer wanted. (McDonnell’s about-face occurred before his ultra-conservative master’s thesis — no jobs for wives! no condoms for unmarried couples! — was uncovered, giving him good cause to steer clear of a leading social conservative.)
All this was too much information. The way to play this was obvious. Stapleton should have just said, Palin offered to assist McDonnell, and she stands ready to do so if he believes that would be useful. Instead, Stapleton, on behalf of Palin, lashed out at a fellow GOPer, causing him to look a bit foolish, and made it seem that Palin is indeed a hot potato for GOP candidates. Not a smooth move.
It’s certainly possible that Palin is stumbling — and laughing — all the way to the bank. She’s making money by giving speeches — recently in Hong Kong she delivered what’s been described as a “rambling” address to a group of businesspeople — and her book, due to pre-orders, hit the No. 1 slot at Amazon.com. If all she cares about is notoriety and cash, she’s doing just fine. But if she is serious about presidential politics, she will have to find better help.