Jonathan Cohn

Sarah Palin's Missed Presidential Moment

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Yeah, okay, I’ll write about her. But really only because I want to quote Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I would never put gun-sights on the districts of my political opponents. Should violence break out, I don’t even want to be in the conversation as a factor--contributing or causal. We may never know what caused Loughner to snap. But at night, I’d like the security of knowing that it could not have possibly been me. Perhaps Sarah Palin has that sense of security. I can’t know.

It’s always tough to try to get into the heads of our politicians. We can’t really know what they “really” think; all we can know is how they act--how, apparently, they would like us to see them. Sarah Palin, surely, asks us to think of her as someone who fits that comment. 

At any rate...my initial reaction to news that InTrade has her nomination chances tanking over the weekend, however, was that it’s a good time to buy. It’s extremely unlikely, I’d say, that the Tucson massacre will have much, if any, effect on GOP nomination politics. It’s a safe bet than when it comes to that electorate, it’s much better to be on the “liberal hypocrites are picking on me” side of things than the “let’s be more responsible in the words we use” side of things. I would never underestimate resentment as a weapon within the GOP.

That said...

Is there anyone who has shown such a consistent lack of growth as a national politician as Sarah Palin? Resentment is a great note to play for GOP presidential candidates, but it’s been over two years: doesn’t she have any other notes at all? David Frum captures the Sage of Wasilla perfectly:

Of course, Palin has yet to give the answer called for by events. Instead, her rapid response operation has focused on pounding home the message that Palin is innocent, that she has been unfairly maligned by hostile critics. Which in this case happened to be a perfectly credible message. And also perfectly inadequate. Palin’s post-shooting message was about Palin, not about Giffords. It was defensive, not inspiring. And it was petty at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous.

I don’t know that it’s her “last clear chance,” because I don’t know that politics works that way. If she continues to run for the 2012 nomination, she’s going to have debates, and speeches, and meetings with various Republican leaders and leaders of Republican-aligned groups, and plenty of chances to react to events (and if she doesn’t, she’s young; there’s always 2016 or 2020 or whatever). There are lots of Republicans who would would be open to changing their minds about her, if she gave them a reason. It’s just that every time she’s had the chance, she pushes everyone outside of her personal faction away.

That is, she’s so far shown herself either incapable or unwilling to be more than a factional candidate, and factional candidates don’t win presidential nominations, at least not since around 1976 or so.  

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