The Palin Paradox

Posted by By at 16 November, at 08 : 42 AM Print

Scott Paterno

During a discussion, about the most recent elections with a group of friends I pointed out to the left leaning bunch that if they were smart they would start writing checks to Palin 2012 (in case you thought there was a reprieve, forget it – the New Hampshire Primary is less than 15 months away).

After they recover from their apoplectic fits, I laid out what I see as an obvious case for such largesse and the principle problem for the GOP in 2012 – what to do with Sarah Palin.

Let me begin by making this expressly clear: I find the personal attacks on Governor Palin reprehensible and her treatment by the media in 2008 embarrassing for people who claim to be objective professionals. That said her appeal, both positive and negative, are elements that must be assessed in any conversation about her impact on both this past election and the coming one.

And make no mistake – Sarah Palin right now is poised to have an as big or bigger impact on the next election as anyone in the GOP, if not the President, as well. And the GOP has a real problem as a result.

The two sides of the coin are these: the GOP needs Sarah to keep the base revved up and ready to go, yet they also know that she is unelectable and an anchor in a general election.

As the results of the last election make this clear. The pool of unaffiliated voters — independents and leaners – that comprise a growing center of the American electorate are now the dominant force in general elections. As is clearly evident from the rapidly swinging political pendulum, neither party has come close to a true philosophical majority in the hearts and minds of the American people. It was the switch of these voters from a 3 to 2 split for Obama to a 3 to 2 split against the Democratic Party Tuesday that delivered such large gains to the GOP.

But this critical voting segment is clearly not comprised of huge Sarah fans based on exit polls. In an election where independents went 3 to 2 for the GOP, they either effectively split or went for the Democratic nominee in four critical senate races ripe for GOP wins: Delaware, Nevada, Colorado and Alaska.

It is obvious that it was Palin more than anything else that cost the GOP control of the senate. And it should be even more obvious that she is the greatest threat to landslide senate gains in 2012, with 23 of the 33 seats up for re-election in Democrat hands. The GOP, with only 10 seats to defend and most of those near locks, could gain as many as 10 more seats with the right candidate field and a headwind from the top of the ticket.

Those are big ifs, as the same was true this past cycle in those 4 critical races – 4 losses in states where seats were up for grabs, all lost by the GOP in spite of a huge wave, and whose common denominator was a Palin endorsee running a moderate and electable Republican out of the primary.

So what is the GOP to do? How do they keep the base energized and engaged while at the same time nominating candidates that have broad enough appeal to win a general election, especially at the top of the ticket?

There is no easy answer and the fact is the balancing act may be more than can be accomplished. But its evident the GOP needs to do so if they want to win the White House and senate in 2012. The GOP, if it wants to govern, must encourage and nominate candidates that share some core values but who seek policy that reflects and is influenced by their constituents. This will allow the GOP to have majorities on the big issues – like totally revamping Obamacare – and healthy debates on more others. The founders never intended – nor should any of us want – there only to be two points of view in the room.

Even more critical for the GOP is nominating a ticket for the White House that can be inclusive of the center-right moderates. The cost of excluding them means losing – ask Sharron Angle, who lost to a guy 60% of the electorate disliked. They just disliked her more, a lesson the GOP needs to let burn in: if you nominate a candidate that reflects a national concept of ideological purity at the expense of a candidate with wide-spread appeal you will lose. Period.

And if you make the far right (or the far left, Donkeys) your champion, you will lose badly. Obama ran as a vague moderate in 2008. The only way the most liberal president in 3 generations (at least) can remotely do so in 2012 is if the GOP is running far right.

If it happens, the GOP will lose – even to a guy they dislike. You know, like the current President.

Yet the GOP’s principle cheerleader has already stated she would rather lose with candidates that see the world her way then win with candidates without said view – and backed up her bravado by backing successful primary candidates who were DOA in the general. She has a profound influence over the GOP base and will have a say in who the GOP nominee is, yet she has fatal weakness with Independents and will hurt the ticket if it can be closely linked to her.

Which brings us right back to the GOP paradox.


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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