What is Sarah Palin up to? She is touring the country in a campaign bus, appearing at campaign rallies, making campaign speeches, drawing campaign crowds. But, she insists, it’s no campaign. Or at least that she’s no candidate.
In 1995, General Colin Powell paralyzed the Republican nominating process by flirting with running for president as he toured America signing his new book. He ultimately didn’t run, but he sold a lot of books and monopolized the nation’s attention for months in the autumn.
In 2007, Barack Obama toured America signing books and used the tour to animate his image and spun it off into a campaign.
In 2011, Donald Trump didn’t even write a book but dominated the media by acting like a candidate before he dropped out.
And now, Sarah Palin who has neither a new book nor a candidacy, is running around sucking up all the media attention.
Why? Is she preparing to run? We doubt it. The polling suggests that she could not be nominated. More than one Republican Primary voter in four feels that she has too much baggage to be elected. While most like her and many love her, large swaths of GOP primary voters are worried that she would pave the way for four more years of Obama.
Higher speaking fees? Better TV ratings? More personal visibility? Likely all are motivations. Maybe she is doing it for the same reason Bill Clinton gave for his affair with Monica “because I could.” Perhaps she just wants one final go-round before attention shifts to those who are really running for president.
In any case, Sarah Palin is doing a disservice to her party. There are many good candidates wanting to nurture their infant campaigns who cannot grow in Palin’s shadow. How are Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, or Jon Huntsman to attract national attention when Sarah is breathing in all the oxygen? And how can good potential candidates like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint or Texas Governor Rick Perry to test the waters when Palin’s bus is on the highway?
Mitt Romney, the front runner, is the main beneficiary of the Palin tour. In the aftermath of Huckabee’s and Trump’s withdrawals, the former Massachusetts Governor has consolidated his status as the candidate out in front. Normally, this accolade would earn him searing media coverage and unwelcome attention to any defect in his record or his past. But not now. All eyes are on Palin and Romney can continue raising money and attracting supporters in peace.
Sarah needs to get into the race or stay out. What she should not do is attract the attention just because she can.