Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Sarah Palin the Tony Mandarich of the GOP?

Pretty much.

Since the election last November Palin has done little more than shoot herself in the foot. Repeatedly. Here's a partial list of self-inflicted wounds and unforced errors she's accumulated:
  • Thanksgiving turkey slaughter video
  • Snubbing the NRCC fundraiser
  • Snubbing CPAC convention
  • Levi Johnson feud
  • David Lettermen feud
These are all PR fouls. Superficial? Perhaps, but each were signs of a poorly run operation. Most of these were collected in Todd Purdum's Vanity Fair article from earlier this week, of which David Frum wrote:
The McCain campaign is over. The duty of confidentiality has expired. The next campaign has begun. If conservatives are to avoid catastrophe, they need to hear from those inside what exactly happened. If true, the leaks constitute an urgent warning and public service. I believe they are true. For sure they confirm what I have heard during the campaign and after. Instead of complaining about these leaks, conservatives should heed them - and fast.
And if you think that either Frum or myself are anarchist nutters, then take Jonah Goldberg's word for it.

Much more important was how she was doing her job back in Alaska and there are indications that her ability to govern had been significantly diminished. First, her choice to be Alaska Attorney General last winter was abhorrent and led to prolonged, unnecessary fight that she lost. Then came a bizarre fight over an appointment to an open state senate seat that she seemed incapable of handling. Making matters worse, her habit of burning bridges described by Purdum was, in fact, much much more pervasive.

There were quite a few conservatives who had doubts about her as early as last October immediately -- and the David Brooks, Peggy Noonans, and Kathleen Parkers of the world were ridiculed by the base then and are just as hotly persued to this day. Turns out they were right. Her announcement/speech this afternoon was astonishing: it was rambling and erratic. It was Palin Unplugged from her staffers (and speech writers, clearly) who tend to become scarce when their bosses are about to hang themselves and the result was not pretty.

The reasons she gave for her resignation were laughable. "I didn't want to waste Alaskans money by going on junkets." So stay in Juneau. "Too much attention is being paid to me by the national media." So use that to Alaska's advantage. She actually said, "trust me" this is best for Alaska. When a politician says "trust me" it's usually a signal that you shouldn't. The whole speech was just strange.

Which is why I think the Mandarich comparison is apt. As every somewhat conscious Parker fan remembers, Tony Mandarch was universally considered to be a can't-miss draft choice who was supposed to be a revolutionary offensive line man. Not only did he fail to live up to those expectations, but he was so spectacularly bad that he's widely considered to be the biggest bust in NFL draft history. In a lot of ways Sarah Palin's not much different. She has folksy charm, is easy on the eyes, and can read a speech (at least one written by Matthew Scully, author of one of the best magazine articles ever), and while those are tremendous assets to have if one wishes to connect with voters, eventually she was going to have to demonstrate some substance and that has been sorely missing since the moment she appeared in the national spotlight.

Palin's been on the national scene for less than year now and she's already done as a national candidate. I never really bought into the talk that Palin was a first tier candidate for 2012, but this news is still a spectacular flame out of unprecedented proportions. A huge part of her continued appeal was based on the premise that she might be running for President in 2012 (or 2016) and that she might win that contest, but as this decision starts to sink in people are going to realize that she can't realistically do either now. That makes her an infinitely less compelling person and pretty soon once ardent supports -- and their money --will stop caring, and, as James Joyner says:
Palin’s not an ordinary presidential aspirant in that she’s got essentially no experience. True, that didn’t seem to stop Barack Obama. But he’s sui generis and came out of the gates giving the impression he had at least thought deeply about the major national and international issues presidents would deal with. Fairly or not, Palin lost that presumption almost immediately upon her debut on the national stage. Without a governorship as a platform for demonstrating competence, I’m not sure how she rebrands herself.
A ton of Republicans had high hopes for her in the years to come. Those are now gone and all that's left is one of the most epic busts in party history.

MORE: Jesus, Rich Lowry and I are kinda of the some mind here. He also name-checks Matthew Scully:
I think I have pretty well-established credentials when it comes to being charmed by Sarah Palin, but that statement, as a statement, was simply terrible. Rambling and not at all persuasive as an argument for her decision. More Gibson/Couric than GOP convention speech. She shouldn't have said a thing without getting Matt Scully—or some similarly talented speechwriter—on the case first. As to how this decision plays out ultimately, we'll see. There's plenty of time if (as I assume) she wants to run in 2012, and she obviously has plenty of capital with Republicans. But not an auspicious start.
Start? No, this is the end.


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