Is she crazy? Or is she crazy like a fox? That’s the question being asked of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin after her stunning announcement last Friday that she will resign as Alaska’s governor later this month.
From the left and the right, the puzzlement is the same: Why has Palin decided to leave her office so abruptly? Republican strategist Ed Rollins, noting that “everyone is shocked” by Palin’s decision, asserts that “everyone is going to assume there’s another story. You don’t just quit with a year and a half to go.” National Democrats, meanwhile, are licking their chops at Palin’s announcement, with some suggesting that she “simply can’t handle the job now that her popularity has dimmed and oil revenues are down.”
Palin certainly has had a tough go of it lately. Her children have been pushed into the political fray thanks to Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol Palin’s baby, who recently posed shirtless in an issue of GQ magazine. Palin also became embroiled in a very public feud with late-night host David Letterman, who made crude jokes about her children. And Vanity Fair has just published an attack on Palin’s vice-presidential campaign, based on the complaints of disgruntled McCain staffers who always despaired at having the governor on the ticket and remain bitter even today.
Palin has also faced local trouble in Alaska. In particular, she has been the subject of a series of ethics complaints, all but two of which have been dismissed. Palin and her defenders argue that these complaints have been both frivolous and politically motivated. Just as significantly, they have drained the governor’s financial and political resources and distracted her from her job. On Sunday, Alaska’s Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, in line to replace Palin, revealed that she resigned due to the large sums of money being spent fighting the attempts to discredit her. According to the Wall Street Journal, up two $2 million may have been spent in public records requests, legal fees, and similar expenses required to combat the complaints.
One such complaint was filed by Alaskan blogger Linda Kellen Biegel, better known by her alias “Celtic Diva.” In her complaint, Biegel alleged that Palin abused her power by seeking personal gain. Her evidence? During the start of a snowmobile race, Palin wore a jacket adorned with the logo of “Arctic Cat,” a company that sponsors her husband, Todd, an avid contestant in these types of events. But as Palin supporters noted, showing solidarity with her husband in a snowmobile competition hardly rose to the level of corruption, and Palin’s administration pointed to the blogger-inspired contretemps as one of the numerous “bogus harassments” with which Palin has forced to contend.
While Palin’s opponents look for any excuse to savage her, and while even some Republicans question her decision to resign at this time, there’s a good case to be made that the move may actually work to her favor. Among conservatives, Palin still retains rock-star status. Indeed, John McCain’s decision to name her to the ticket was a bid to bolster his credibility with the right. Palin certainly did that and, as a result, she remains a sought-after by Republicans with political aspirations. She had been asked to be the keynote speaker at a major Republican fundraiser, although she declined the role, and Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee Chairman, has said that her “galvanizing voice” could be critical to the success of Republican campaigns in battleground states like Virginia and New Jersey.
By resigning the governorship, however reluctantly, Palin also helps to improve her national profile. No longer is she confined to perhaps the nation’s most isolated state, whose capital, Juneau, can only be reached by sea or air. “North to the Future” may be Alaska’s state motto, but Palin’s political future depends on a broader appeal.
The timing of her latest move is not as premature as many have made out. As proven in recent years, it is never too early to start to meet voters in Des Moines and Manchester. Some of her potential rivals for the presidential nomination, especially Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, already have an infrastructure in place in Iowa and New Hampshire, courtesy of their failed 2008 campaigns. Another potential rival, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, has announced that he would not see office in 2010. He has also started an attempt to build a national base, speaking at an Arkansas state fundraiser last week. If Palin does indeed begin a presidential bid, her name recognition alone is likely to make her a favorite. After all, how many people outside of his home state could even recognize Tim Pawlenty?
There are other signs that Palin will shortly reemerge onto the national scene. She recently signed a book deal with Harper-Collins, and the autobiography is scheduled to be released next Mother’s Day. Like all celebrity books, it will include a book tour that will draw large audiences, offering Palin a great way to sell herself in the world of “retail politics” just before the campaign season kicks off. In the headlines once again, Palin could become a deciding factor in critical races, building up her support among the conservative base and rallying the Republican apparatus behind her.
To be sure, Palin’s decision to leave office so soon is unconventional. But then the charismatic Republican governor, who burst onto the national scene only last year from relative anonymity, has never been a conventional politician. Only a few short years ago, she was the mayor of a “city” in Alaska with a population of less than 10,000. She fought through a brutal Alaskan political climate to the top office. And, despite some notable flubs during her vice-presidential campaign, she still remains arguably America’s most popular conservative politician. Can she retain that title when she is no longer governor? As Palin herself might put it: You betcha!