What’s notable about Sarah Palin’s book tour
, which starts midweek, is where she’s not
going. She’s not going to L.A. or New York, Boston or San Francisco. She’s going smack dab to the middle of the country. Fly-over country, liberals call it. And it’s a shrewd move, not only in selling books, but positioning herself for a presidential run in 2012, if she chooses.
It’s a strategy right out of the late Sam Walton’s playbook: go where there’s demand and the competition ain’t. Walton, who could have run and won political campaigns, built Walmart into the behemoth it is today by opening his discount stores in small towns in the heartland, towns that the eight-hundred pound gorilla K-Mart ignored.
Walton conquered the discount retail category from the heartland out. He didn’t so much as clobber K-Mart as steal a march on it. Palin may just prove that a heartland strategy does more than sell blenders and books. It’s the foundation for winning a national election.
Make no mistake, right now, heartlanders (and heartlanders in spirit) are feeling awfully ignored by Washington politicians. The president and Congress are intent on ramming through a health care reform measure that an ever-increasing majority of Americans oppose. They’re spending as if using someone else’s credit card (in fact, the people’s); they play Americans for dupes by calling an old-fashioned pork barrel bill an economic stimulus; and, for toppers, President Obama is playing Hamlet about Afghanistan, thus putting brave soldiers there at greater risk every day.
What Palin will bring to places like Noblesville, Ind., Washington, Pennsylvania, and Fort Bragg, N.C, is her brand of popular conservatism: upbeat, optimistic and certain. It really is an offshoot of the Reagan brand. And the Reagan brand has its roots deep in the American character.
Corny as it sounds to tone-deaf liberals, in the main, citizens believe in the American Way
. It’s no accident that by a two-to-one margin, more voters identify as conservative rather than liberal, and that doesn’t count all those other voters who hold some conservative values and positions.
And it may not just be conservatives and conservative-leaners who find Palin’s Americanism attractive. Sean Trende, in a solid analysis
for RealClearPolitics, showed that in November’s off-year elections, principally in Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, affluent suburban voters, who had been trending Democratic, moved away from the party toward conservative Republican candidates.
But another striking fact from the elections was the continued movement toward the GOP of those who Trende and his colleague, Jay Cost, term “Jacksonians” (in part, heartlanders).
“The historical base of the Democratic Party for two centuries has long been … Jacksonians: Culturally conservative, hawkish, and populist whites located throughout the South and Border states. They began breaking away from Democrats in the 1950s and 1960s — their reaction to the Party’s embrace of unions, blacks and liberals is a story that is so well known there’s no need to rehash it here.
“But this group remained at least in play for the Democrats. Clinton inherited a coalition consisting of minorities, liberals, urban voters, and a decent remnant of Jacksonian voters in the Ohio River Valley and the South, who still preferred a moderate-to-conservative Democrat to a Republican. This coalition became a majority coalition when Clinton used a combination of fiscal conservatism and social moderation to bring suburban voters on board.”
Trende writes that in the 2008 presidential election, drop off in Jacksonians’ support for Barack Obama may have shaved seven percentage points from his vote aggregate. It was the difference between a fairly close margin of victory (53% to 46%) and a landslide.
The dilemma this poses for Democrats, as Trende concludes, is that, though it’s possible for the party to maintain majority status absent the Jacksonians, it’s a very hard trick to pull off, especially if there’s a sustained migration of affluent suburban voters back to the GOP.
So, Palin’s heartland strategy means consolidating her base among voters from Kentucky north to Michigan, from central Pennsylvania clear over to the Rocky Mountains. The Deep South is largely in conservative hands now.
And just as with Walmart’s strategy of building its retailing muscle from the heartland out, Palin’s next move should be into the nation’s suburbs. Starting with her vice presidential nomination and afterward, the mainstream media and liberal pundits and bloggers have done an expert job of slicing and dicing Palin’s reputation. Voter perceptions of Palin in affluent suburbs are more caricature than reality. In many eyes, she’s a mix of good-looking airhead and gun-toting, social issues radical.
Palin can explode those perceptions by engaging suburbanites on a retail basis, something that small-minded and controlling McCain campaign operatives barred her from doing last year.
The former Alaska governor is, by appearances and reports, a warm and engaging personality who talks a common sense language that resonates with most Americans. The key for her is to connect her conservative principles with suburbanites’ concerns. She needs to illustrate ways that conservatism has practical and flexible applications to current problems. Nowadays, most citizens, including upscale suburbanites, experience the challenge of raising kids the right way, keeping household budgets in balance and saving for rainy days and retirements. They worry about keeping their jobs and are against tax hikes and profligate government spending.
There is, in short, plenty of common ground between suburbanites and Palin. It’s just waiting to be discovered.
Of course, no one should expect liberal poison pens to stop writing against Palin. The clack of computer keys will grow even louder at the Daily Kos and Huffington Post. The Katie Courics and the gang at MSNBC will step up their pot-shots. But Palin engaging Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, among others, should go a long way in blunting the liberal invective that will increase with each stop of Palin’s book tour. Again, something McCain campaign gurus prevented her from doing last election season.
Sam Walton once said:
“Each Walmart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community.”
The same holds true for politicians’ relationships to citizens. It’s not happening now in America. Sarah Palin has the opportunity to change that for the better.