Palin's Compass Heading: East
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to resign at the end of the month, nearly a year and a half before the end of her elected term, will unshackle her from the time-consuming detail work of being a chief executive --and the almost impossible job of balancing a budget these days -- in a frontier state far away from the national debate. It will allow her to seek every opportunity to build a broader political base in all 50 states. But should she decide to stay in the glare of the national spotlight, as most assume, she'll need more than an open schedule book to make a serious advance on Washington.
It's unlikely Palin will paddle a canoe off into the Alaska sunset. As Republican vice presidential nominee last year, she's tasted the wine at the mountaintop of national politics already, and at 45 years of age and with an almost fanatical following, at least among a core of conservative Republicans, she has plenty of opportunity ahead.
The late Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-NV, once quipped that the only cure for presidential ambition is embalming fluid. Interesting that 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain always liked quoting him on that. McCain won't run again for president, but the understudy in his losing bid is clearly pondering one.
For starters, she'll have lots of time to truly hit the books and become a confident expert on leading national issues, whether it be energy independence, health care, national defense or foreign policy. It was her lack of serious policy acumen more than anything that made her a liability in 2008. There's no reason she can't make up for that in the future. So far, Palin has shown no particular interest in doing her homework, but she'll have to if she wants to broaden her appeal.
She'll have a long national book tour next year, coinciding with the 2010 mid-term elections and probably raising enough royalty and advance money and speaking fees to help finance the beginning of a campaign for 2012, though a good chunk of her funds will have to go to rising legal expenses to deal with a series of investigations. She'll continue to draw crowds of adoring fans, will be an A-lister guest on talk shows (though she's been reluctant to submit to questioning except from friendly hosts) and at campaign rallies for Republicans and at fundraisers, and she'll command admiration from many women and young mothers. One of the cable networks will probably offer her a talk show, if for no other reason than to drive ratings.
Her big challenge will be shoring up support from influential party insiders. There's been so much after-the-fact finger pointing from party officials and ex-campaign staff and about her drag on the 2008 ticket, her family issues and her primadonna persona, recounted in the current Vanity Fair, it will take time to repair. But image repair is hardly impossible. If she proves to be a national draw that can expand party support beyond the most committed conservative base later this year and next, which is quite possible, she'll surprise the party power types and sweep away a good measure of the infighting.
This could be even more likely if the economy continues a slow and largely jobless recovery well into next year and the Obama administration starts showing the cracks of age, not to mention the setbacks that are inevitable for any new president
Palin's far from writing the last chapter of her political playbook, in every sense. It's one we'll all be reading a little later, the party insiders included.