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Palin 2012: an update

Thomas Ash
29 October 2008

A week ago, I wrote about the possibility of a Sarah Palin candidacy in 2012. Since then, Palin and those close to her appear to have brought this closer to reality by distancing themselves from John McCain. That makes sense if she wants to continue her ascent through the Republican ranks, because recriminations are sure to abound if McCain loses in six days' time. In fact, they have already begun. Joining a growing crowd of conservative commentators and intellectuals, moderate Republicans like Tom Ridge, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, have criticised the choice of Sarah Palin as running mate. (Ridge was widely believed to have been one of McCain's preferred VP picks before concerns about his base pushed him to choose someone more conservative.) Meanwhile, those further to the right have suggested that McCain's problem was that he was not conservative or aggressive enough.Palin has at times come close to voicing this latter critique, publicly urging McCain to "take the gloves off" and make Jeremiah Wright more of an issue. She would certainly not be the moderate wing's choice of candidate in 2012. I argued a week ago that moderates' criticism of her cannot fail to do some damage, but that non-moderates have a disproportionate influence in the primaries. Since then, discussion of her chances in 2012 has intensified, as evidenced by this summary in The Week.  I disagree with the dissenting voice quoted there, who suggests that people like me overestimate her political talents. Uneven though her performance has been this time around, she has shown an ability to draw huge crowds and intense support, and before her brand was tainted she enjoyed widespread popularity. Even more telling are her earlier achievements, which include unseating an incumbent governor in Alaska's Republican primaries, a truly impressive feat.This is not to deny that Palin would face significant challenges. Additional conservative critics may yet emerge once the campaign is over and the need for them to bite their tongues ceases. Assuming McCain loses, she is bound to attract some of the blame. Her popularity in Alaska shows signs of decreasing from its (very high) initial base, and events there may yet damage her. She will face formidable opponents, possibly including a better-funded Mike Huckabee and a re-energised Mitt Romney (whose former staffers have been involved in spreading anti-Palin spin to reporters, according to the American Spectator).  And, awkward though it is to say so, her looks - which constitute a significant part of her appeal for some people - will begin to fade as she goes from 44 to 48.

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