If it was impossible to determine Sarah Palin’s motivations in the days following her resignation announcement, it has since become clear that she has no intention of stepping out of the spotlight. While we’ve all been watching to see whether she would retreat from public life, the Alaska Governor has kept up her role as the GOP’s perpetual star and permanent attack dog.
In an interview published in Time, Palin insisted that all options are “on the table” about and blasted the administration’s domestic policies. “President Obama is growing government outrageously, and it’s immoral and it’s uneconomic, his plan that he tries to sell America,” she said. She has also announced that one of her first post-resignation outings would be an August 8th event at the Reagan library. And she gave an interview to the Washington Times, making it clear that she plans to jump immediately back into the national political fray.
So much for the hopes that the July 3rd press conference would be the last we would see of Palin.
What are Palin’s intentions, then? “I’m not ruling out anything — it is the way I have lived my life from the youngest age,” she explained. “Let me peek out there and see if there’s an open door somewhere. And if there’s even a little crack of light, I’ll hope to plow through it.” Thankfully, Palin has a more definite idea of what she wants to do with herself in the coming months:
I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation.
Regardless of party label? Now, that’s a twist! We surely expected Palin to travel the GOP circuit: If she is interested in 2012’s presidential nomination, the only way for her to overcome worries about her motivation and her electability is to launch herself in the 2010 midterms and help her fellow Republicans win congressional and gubernatorial victories - by raising money, campaigning, sending over PAC donations. These candidates would then be indebted to her and thus far more likely to endorse her presidential bid.
But helping Democrats is quite another story. The rest of Palin’s interview reveals what she’s thinking: “Republicans, now trailing Democrats and independents in registration in many states, should back moderate to conservative Democrats in congressional districts and states where Republicans stand almost no chance of winning.” In short, Palin wants to mount some type of coordinated effort to get conservative activists living in staunchly liberal districts to vote in the Democratic primary.
This is technically difficult to pull-off - many states don’t allow registered Republicans to participate in Democratic primaries, so would Palin advocate a change in their affiliation at the risk of shrinking the GOP further? - and it doesn’t make a ton of sense politically. If there are really enough Republicans in the district that a campaign to get them involved might make a difference, it’s probably also possible - difficult, but possible - for the GOP to outright win the seat.
Most importantly, Palin seems as unaware as ever about her own unpopularity. Does she realize what it would do to a Democrat’s campaign if she was seen as helping his bid in any way, shape or form?
Palin retains a strong following, but her name remains toxic among all Democrats and most independents; her decision to resign makes it highly unlikely she’ll have any way of correcting that before 2012. If she were to suggest support for a Democrat, his opponent would have a field day associating him to the GOP’s fringe right and liberals voters would suddenly get motivated. That would far outweigh any benefit the candidate might receive from conservative voters willing to crossover.
Of course, many Republican candidates will face the same problem. Unless they’re running in a staunchly conservative state or district (say, Texas Governor Rick Perry who is delighted to receive Palin’s help), it is a huge risk for them to have the Alaska Governor campaign by their side. Palin’s visit would receive more coverage in the local press than most other of the campaign events and it would motivate the left as much as the right.
Don’t forget that many Democrats are worried that their base will turn out in far lower numbers in 2010 than it did in 2008, putting them at a disadvantage over fired up conservatives looking to punish the White House. Palin’s presence on the trail would offer Democrats an opportunity to address their fear of a turnout differential.
As such, Palin has become as huge a dilemma for the GOP as George W. Bush was over the past two cycles. The president still motivated the Republican base and remained a strong fundraiser; but for a candidate to get associated with him provided Democrats so much fodder that a presidential visit was just not worth the trouble. Early indications suggest that Republicans looking to win competitive races will treat Palin in the same exact way - New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bill McDonnell have already signaled that Palin is not welcome to campaign by their side - but in doing so they risk attracting the wrath of conservative activists.