This past Tuesday’s primary in preparation for November’s midterms gave us insights into the mood of the electorate. Some broad themes are developing: Incumbents are in a world of trouble and Sarah Palin has big league clout.
There are exceptions—for example John McCain in Arizona—but largely, current officeholders are on the skids simply because voters are ticked off and change is in the air. Evidently the hope and change promised by candidate Obama has withered on the vine of his presidency.
The Tea Party movement has tapped into this reality, recognizing the unrest and volatility at the grassroots level. Ordinary citizens are fed up with out of control spending by elitist politicians out of touch with bread and butter issues.
Sarah Palin wades into this electoral turbulence with all the tact and delicacy of a grizzly set loose in a slaughterhouse. She hones her standard red-meat stump speech stirring up the Republican faithful in a variety of selected campaigns across the country.
Love her or hate her, Palin is a force in the Republican Party that cannot be denied. Her weight was clearly seen in the Alaska Senate race between U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and challenger Joe Miller.
The little-known, 43-year-old Miller cast himself as a rugged individualist determined to put Alaska on a new course free of federal dollars. His thrust and rhetoric is rather ironic, and perhaps hypocritical, since over the years Alaska has benefited tremendously from pork-barrel spending.
Nevertheless, Miller campaigned and gained momentum promoting fiscal responsibility and government restraint. On the ABC/Washington Post Top Line program he credited Sarah Palin’s support for his coming out of nowhere to the brink of victory by saying, “It’s absolutely definite that her endorsement of this campaign has helped us. It’s certainly given us national recognition.”
Results of the Alaska Primary are not final, but Miller is holding a slim lead as the counting of absentee ballots continues, a process which could take several days. If Miller maintains his advantage and defeats Murkowski, it will be a stunning upset—it will also mean that for Tuesday’s endorsements, Sarah Palin will have gone five for five.
This election cycle is being dominated by the Palin factor. She has come alongside of forty-plus candidates, with overwhelmingly positive results. She’s got twenty wins and ten losses—twelve primaries still to come where she has a horse in the race.
What is it about Sarah Palin—what’s intriguing about the Palin factor?
To her detractors she’s an intellectual lightweight who’s a pretty face in nicely cut clothes. A one-trick pony with a simplistic message delivered with clichés and broad-brush swipes at complex issues.
The anti-Palin pundits are quick to say that her syntax can sometimes be tortured—she leans heavily on “also”, using the word as an adverb, adjective or conjunction, which is distracting and can be reminiscent of George W. Bush’s verbal teeter totter. Her opponents see her as the real-life caricature created by comedian Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 presidential campaign.
However, to her avid fan base, she is the second coming of the Gipper—she’s Ronald Reagan in drag. She’s the genuine article, shouldering the mantle of the frontier mindset determined to deregulate and diminish the reach of government. She echoes Reagan’s mantra effortlessly, delivering quips with the same natural flair of the 40th president.
The reality is likely somewhere in between the portrait painted by adversaries and the one projected by supporters—though it’s interesting that Palin is perpetually underestimated by the mainstream press along with a smattering of conservatives.
In this she reflects the life and times of the actor turned politician—Reagan was written off as a one-dimensional package with no attributes other than charisma that maximized the appeal of an outsider. History tells a different story.
Since Ronald Reagan stepped off center-stage, the Republican Party has desperately searched for someone, anyone to lead the charge into the fray of partisan politics—someone, anyone to put a smiley-face on conservatism.
The Palin factor may be a short-lived phenomenon that fizzles, but don’t bet the mortgage payment on it. Sarah Palin may actually be a Reagan Republican—an outsider with charisma, carrying a fundamental message: “Government isn’t the solution; government is the problem.”