How could someone filled with such promise plunge so far, so fast? How does one go from national icon to national laughingstock?
That’s exactly what has happened to Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.
Once arguably the GOP’s most charismatic celebrity, Palin is now better known for “thriving in this role of right wing shock jock” as Nicolle Wallace, a former senior adviser for the John McCain-Palin campaign, now puts it.
It’s a far cry from Sept. 3, 2008, when Palin, then the largely unknown Alaska governor, confidently strode onto the stage at the Republican National Convention as McCain’s running mate and introduced herself to the world. It was a breakthrough moment – supporters saw in her a political outsider, a feisty advocate for conservative values, and a “hockey mom” with five children (including one son on his way to fight in Iraq and another born with Down syndrome).
On the campaign trail, Palin electrified voters portraying herself up as governor who stood up to special interests, lobbyists, big oil companies and the “good-ol’’ boys network.” And to the delight of the party’s base voters, she painted then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama, as an out-of-touch elitist who had nothing to offer but empty promises.
How the mighty have fallen.Few now take Palin seriously. Her biggest fans are really just a small slice of the far-right electorate. And this week, party leaders distanced themselves from Palin’s call –and confusing rationale – for impeaching President Obama.
They’re not alone. The majority of Americans – 54% – believe Palin is too outspoken, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll.
But that’s not stopping her. On Friday, Palin wrote a bizarre op-ed for FoxNews.com criticizing Obama for not visiting the “porous U.S. border” during his cross-country, three-day fundraising trip in Texas and Colorado – accusing him of being too busy “hobnobbing,” “getting buzzed on suds,” and “staving off the munchies.”
“Sarah Palin could have been anything she wanted to be – an adviser, maybe a run for the presidency, a stalwart for some of the policy issues she cared about like energy. But she took a different path, one that really surprised people,” Wallace told msnbc. “She seems to revel in her role as agitator.”
Palin’s antics have hurt Republicans overall, Wallace argued.
Palin “seems to always make it personal and always make it negative and deride other Republicans instead of focusing on our opportunities … The great tragedy of the Sarah Palin trajectory is that she always turns to fire on her own party instead of using the spotlight to gain advantage,” she said.
That’s particularly true lately. When tea party favorite Chris McDaniel fell short in his bid to beat incumbent GOP Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s Republican primary last month, Palin, who had endorsed McDaniel, jumped on the baseless bandwagon argument that the loss could be the result of voter fraud.
Palin also turned on House Speaker John Boehner this week, mocking his plan to sue the Obama administration over what he’s called an abuse of executive power. Impeachment, Palin argued, was the answer.
“You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines,” Palin said on Fox News on Tuesday night.
Boehner said little in response, only that he “disagreed” with Palin.
McCain went further, deriding her on the same network for failing to recognize impeachment is a lost cause, as there are not enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate to even pass a measure. “We should focus our attention on winning elections,” McCain said.
GOP Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, a tea party favorite, called Palin’s plan an “exercise in futility.”
“Wanting to impeach Obama is just bad politics,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “Palin just wants people to talk about her. She’s taken on an Ann Coulter type persona and just wants to be more shocking than anything else.”
Attorney General Eric Holder reacted on Sunday to Palin’s call for Obama’s impeachment in a taped interview with ABC’s “This Week” saying that “She wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate. She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why.” Holder dismissed calls by Republicans for himself to be impeached earlier this year for not fully investigating the IRS, which acknowledged last year that agents improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny.
Indeed, Palin’s call for impeachment may be backfiring. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sent an email Thursday saying there had been an “absolute explosion” of grassroots donations to the group – 9,560 donations in 24 hours – after Palin’s “ridiculous” call to remove Obama from office.
“Republican overreach continues to be a huge motivating factor for our grassroots. First Boehner’s lawsuit and now Palin’s call for impeachment have led to an avalanche of support from low dollar donors across the country,” DCCC spokesman Josh Scherwin told msnbc.
To be sure, even during Palin’s peak popularity in the 2008 campaign, there were signs that her meteoric ascent wouldn’t last long.
There were the unrelenting Saturday Night Live skits depicting her as a clueless country bumpkin, her damning interview with Katie Couric, and news that $150,000 in donor funds had been spent on clothes for her and her family. Leaks from the sputtering McCain campaign cast doubts on her grasp of geopolitics and basic domestic policy. She was seen as not only an unpredictable wild card – but one that was wholly unprepared to lead the free world.
After the campaign ended, there were some bits of success– a gig with Fox News, a successful memoir, and her role in the growing Tea Party wave. But she lost significant credibility when she stepped down as governor in 2009, barely halfway into her first term.
“She jumped the shark when she resigned as governor and didn’t serve out her term. She decided she wanted to be an entertainer rather than be in government,” Feehery said.
Even though the majority of Americans want Palin to keep quiet, it doesn’t look like she’ll be drop off the national radar anytime soon.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Palin’s political career is “pretty much over.” But, he said, Palin has realized “she is more powerful as a media personality than a politician … it’s an easier life, you can have more influence and you can make more money.”
But, as Wallace put it, Palin “will always have a base of really, really devoted supporters in the party. She will always have people that admire her rebellious spirit and straight talk. She won’t disappear.”