* June Article of the Month *
In 2008, Governor Sarah Palin stole the show during the US presidential elections, albeit for all of about a fortnight, after it was announced that she would be Senator John McCain’s running-mate. Oozing a dynamic and youthful energy, she wowed journalists and captured the world’s imagination. While ultimately unsuccessful, she had undergone a veritable metamorphosis. Previously almost unknown throughout and outside of America, she became an international household name almost overnight. Galvanising speculation in the two years prior to the 2012 presidential election as to whether or not she would throw her lot in during the Republican’s nomination process, she did not ultimately run. And now, the same question stands: Palin 2016?
In some ways Palin seems the natural Republican nomination. By their very nature, caucus and primary selections favour individuals aligned with their party’s ideological activist network. In the post-Bush era this has been the niche filled by the various Tea Party movements and their various offshoots. Ideological purists who despise compromise, Governor Palin will – and in fact has – earned their adoration for her hatred of abortion, government approval of homosexual activity and marriage as well as high taxes and state intervention in economic affairs.
Furthermore, while other Tea Party darlings such as Senators Cruz and Paul seem likely to throw their hat in the ring at this stage of the invisible primaries, they lack experience. Both freshmen, they have achieved little of substance (think a government shutdown for Cruz and Paul’s famous anti-drone filibuster of 7th March 2013) and seem to mainly focus on bickering with their Democrat counterparts in ever-growing displays of partisanship. In contrast to this, Governor Palin enjoys valuable executive experience from her stewardship over Alaska. Historically, the most successful Republican presidential nominees have been drawn from the executive branches of government; not its legislatures. Despite ultimately losing 2012’s election, Governor Mitt Romney still managed to secure a higher proportion of votes than Senator McCain had four years previously.
However, in the eyes of the most likely demographic to actually participate in 2016’s primaries and caucuses, Senators Cruz and Paul have gained experience and significance in their first years as junior Senators: curbing the excesses and evils of “big” government. While October 2013’s shutdown caused umbrage amongst liberals and Democrats, it was hailed as a necessary and brave action by conservatives of Cruz’s ilk. The Senator from Texas’ filibuster was certainly impressive, and showed him to be a serious conviction politician.
Similarly, with his own filibuster in March 2013, Senator Paul gained a confirmation from Attorney General Holder that US citizens could not be killed by drones if they were “not engaged in combat on American soil”: a fear held after Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by the CIA in September 2011. The libertarian wing of the Republican Party had been infuriated by what Senator Paul referred to as the “shred(ding) [of] the Constitution”, but were delighted at his successful attempts to uphold the rights of trial by jury and making a stand against ever-growing enumerated constitutional powers. Beyond her loud protestations and mudslinging against the Democrat establishment, what can Governor Palin say that she has achieved on a national and international stage in the same way the Senators Cruz and Paul have?
Moreover, even though the aforementioned Senators may lack the same experience as her, there are several other Republicans who match, and in fact exceed her in their executive accomplishments. While the “Bridgegate” scandal has certainly dented Governor Christie of New Jersey’s chances of success, he has achieved the almost impossible task of winning successive gubernatorial elections as a Republican in a solidly blue state. Although clownish to a certain extent, he has an aura of competence that shone immediately before and after the arrival of Hurricane Sandy in the autumn of 2012. It’s hard to imagine him being caught out by an interviewer struggling to name a single newspaper or current affairs magazine that he read, as was the case with Palin in 2008. Although at times seemingly petty and small-minded (think his public shouting matches with constituents, union members and even a retired Navy SEAL which are available on YouTube); he seems unlikely to consider himself qualified in foreign affairs by virtue of living fairly close to Russia (Palin did), or alternatively making fun of a rival because of their weight (as Palin did to him at her CPAC 2013 speech).
Governor Jeb Bush is another strong contender. Apart from an unfortunate surname which immediately pigeonholes him as being merely another dynastic president in waiting, he has so far impressed. Taking pragmatic stances on a number of issues that would gain approval from centrists and independents while not alienating a conservative grassroots base; he also succeeded in expanding Florida’s Republican Party into a genuine “big tent”, commanding support across a wide variety of ethnic and economic groups. Taking a careful, measured tone when he speaks; Governor Bush inspires infinite more confidence in the public arena than Palin’s veritable baying and rabble-rousing. She also failed to complete a full term as Governor of Alaska – resigning on attaining lame duck status, and is considered an intellectual light-weight by many to the extent that she could a liability on the GOP’s ticket.
In short, it seems more likely than not that Governor Palin will refrain from entering the Republican Party’s primaries in January 2016. However, that does not mean she will totally remove herself from the process. Even six years after she was first propelled to fame, she still commands a great amount of influence within the Republican Party’s activist Tea Party base. It seems inconceivable that she will take a back-seat in 2016, and can instead be expected to actively campaign in either high-profile constituencies, or for candidates who risk losing their seats to Democrats. While come January 2017 we should not expect Governor Palin to become President Palin, this election will still be marked by her involvement. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact it has...
By Daniel J. Levy