Making Plans for Palin


Is Palin making plans for 2012?

I ask because she's contradicted John McCain on a number of subjects in recent weeks--and every contradiction seems calibrated to preserve (or even enhance) her standing with the Republican base should the Arizona senator lose on Nov. 4. To wit:

Oct. 3, Michigan: Palin first wandered off the reservationwhen McCain decided to withdraw from the Great Lakes State earlier this month. Noting that she "read that this morning and... fired off a quick e-mail" to campaign HQ questioning the move, the Alaska governor told reporters, "I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try." She continued: "Todd and I, we'd be happy to get to Michigan and walk through those plants of the car manufacturers. We'd be so happy to get to speak to the people in Michigan who are hurting because the economy is hurting."

Oct. 5, Wright: Asked by Bill Kristol whether her boss should harp on Obama's connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Palin was quick to say yes--and remind readers that it was McCain who had decided against attacking: “To tell you the truth, Bill, I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up.”

Oct. 11, North Korea: When the Bush Administration removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror, McCain was quick to issue a critical statement. But Palin was far more accomodating: "Having worked on this strategy for quite some time, I have faith…that they’re making this wise decision."

Oct. 20, Robocalls:  On Sunday, Palin criticized the automated calls that the Republican National Committee and her own campaign have put out linking Obama to Bill Ayers. "If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand," Palin told her traveling press corps, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls and includes spending so much money on the television ads that, I think, is kind of draining out there in terms of Americans' attention span. They get a bit irritated with just being inundated."

Oct. 21, Gay Marriage:  In an interviewwith the Christian Broadcasting Network, Palin signaled her support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage--even though McCain once described such a ban as “antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.” Here's what she said: “In my own state, I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans who had the opportunity to vote to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. I wish on a federal level that that's where we would go because I don't support gay marriage."

Maybe I'm crazy. But doesn't it sort of seem like Palin's saying, Hey Republicans: don't blame me if this guy loses? Consider all the things she's hinting she would've done differently. She would've revived the good Reverend. She would've tried harder in Michigan. She would've moved further right on social issues. She would've pursued a less bellicose foreign policy. And she would've refused to bug you with stupid, "old, conventional" robocalls. In short, Palin would've been more of a culture warrior than McCain and less a product of the past--an "authentic" sociall conservative, but also a breath of fresh air. At least according to Palin.

If the GOP ticket loses--which isn't a given--we should expect a 2012 primary battle defined largely by right-wing, populist, grassroots anger toward the relatively moderate McCain (and toward the conservative elites that either pushed for his nomination or defected to Obama). Given her popularity with the base--and all this preemptive distancing stuff--Palin could conceivably ride that rage to the top of the primary pile. Of all the possible 2012ers, she clearly has the largest, most ardent following. The question is whether she could overcome the Tina Fey Factor and cobble together a political majority outside the GOP.

Right now, it doesn't look possible. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, only 38 percent of voters feel positively toward Palin, while a full 47 percent feel negatively. She's the only principal with a net negative rating. What's more, 55 percent of voters say Palin is not qualified to be president if the need arises, up from 50 percent two weeks ago.And she keeps pouring fuel on the fire. Asked Tuesday by a third-grader what vice presidents do, Palin said that "they’re in charge of the U.S. Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes"--which, given that the vice president casts tiebreaking votes as Senate president but "has no official role in developing legislation or determining how it is presented or debated," isn't really accurate. (Video above.) Still, four years is a long time. Long enough, I suppose, to rehabilitate one's public image. And to read the Constitution.