Seventeen months from the 2012 election, the Republican presidential field is unsettled in the extreme. Mitt Romney, the supposed conservative, was considered a liberal four years ago before his miraculous transformation – but he still has Romneycare on his resume. Ron Paul’s vision is a bit problematic, to say the least – as Michael Medved has documented; he thinks the president shouldn’t have authorized the killing of Bin Laden, that heroin and cocaine should be legal, and that prostitution is constitutionally protected. Newt Gingrich has spent the last two weeks destroying his conservative following, running desperately for the center in an attempt to claim that empty middle ground as a McCain wannabe. Tim Pawlenty is now being outpolled by Herman Cain. Even Thad McCotter, a wonderful Congressman but an unfeasible presidential candidate in his current position, is considering a run.
The candidate sucking all the air out of the room, of course, is Sarah Palin. Palin has made no secret of the fact that she is considering a 2012 run – she would “crash through” any of “open doors” that would lead her to the White House, she said back in 2008. Next month, Palin’s campaign will likely kick off with the release of Steve Bannon’s The Undefeated, a documentary reviewing Palin’s accomplishments in Alaska. “The film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976,” Bannon said to RealClearPolitics. “Let’s have a good old-fashioned brouhaha.”
This week, she’s beginning a bus tour across the country. Tim Crawford, treasurer of Palin’s PAC, explained that Palin was embarking on the tour “Because she wants to see how this nation was built and get fired up about that.” Or, more realistically, Palin’s embarking on the tour because she’s softening the ground for her big announcement, which will likely come on July 4. Palin’s not one for subtlety – that’s her drawback, and that’s her charm.
Will it prevent her from winning?
Current polls have her trailing President Obama badly, by 17 percent according to Public Policy Polling. That same poll shows Obama beating Gingrich by 14 and Romney by just 7. Even more disturbing, the poll shows Palin’s favorability ratings dramatically underwater, at 30 percent. PPP is a Democratic-stacked poll, but these are bad numbers nonetheless.
Oddly enough, Palin is polarizing even within the Republican Party. Seven percent of Republicans who know her strongly dislike her, compared with just 5 percent for Gingrich. The only Republican who ranks lower among Republicans overall is Gingrich, at 29 percent to her 27 percent. By the same token, she blows away the rest of the field in terms of name recognition and favorability (71 percent). In urban areas, Republicans fear that she’s not sophisticated enough (false), that she’s prone to gaffes (true), and that she’ll be blown off the stage by Barack Obama (unclear). In rural areas, Republicans love her because they’re not put off by her accent or her corny tics.
The question is whether in this election, Americans will be put off by Palin’s winking more than they’re attracted to her clarity. Palin’s strength is her glibness – she’s able to boil down issues to their bare essence. She knows how she’s seen, and she embraces it. She’s purely authentic – when she says she wants Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” as her cellphone ringtone, she’s telling the truth. In this way, she’s the polar opposite of President Obama, who loves to obscure issues in a cloud of rhetoric and faux complexity, and who is purely inauthentic. He runs from the fact that he is an ivory tower elitist, alienating Americans with his upturned chin and “into-the-future stare.”
For all the criticisms of her supposedly rough political abilities, she’s navigated the Republican field far more ably than seasoned politicians like Gingrich and Romney. She hasn’t declared, and she’s already running second. She didn’t shoot herself in the foot by embracing liberal politics, and she allowed Donald Trump to play stalking horse on the birth certificate and school records issues. She has never thrown a fellow Republican under the bus (she has praised Romney, Herman Cain, Gingrich, and virtually everyone else who has declared), and she has never promoted a non-conservative candidate for higher office.
She knows her base, and she knows her principles. She smacked Obama on Israel last week with brevity and simplicity: “Anyone who studies history, studies the Old Testament, studies geography understands that Israel now is surrounded by enemies at all times. It should be now that America takes a stand in defending our friends in Israel …. More than ever, we should be standing strong with Israel and saying, ‘No, you don’t have to divide Jerusalem, you don’t have to divide your capital city.” Then she went even further: “I’m going to call him our temporary leader because my goal is to make sure that President Obama is not reelected in 2012.”
It’s that kind of absolute willingness to go after Obama that endears Palin to Republicans. And with Obama’s unpopularity on the rise, the economy in a double-dip, and our foreign policy in shambles, more and more Americans want truth spoken to power. That’s why, counterintuitive though it may seem, Palin may be perfectly positioned for 2012.
Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer, and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. He is also a board member of [Declaration Entertainment](http://www.declarationentertainment.com/), an organization dedicated to the creation of conservative film and television content.