Saturday, July 23, 2011

Palin politics: Mistaking the little pond for the big pond

Although Sarah Palin is remaining coy about her intentions to run for the Republican presidential nomination, many of us continue to talk about her. I suppose that is a part of her grand strategy, which is, we must admit, working. I mean the part about us still talking about her.

Given the fact that she is doing none of the things a candidate conventionally needs to do to run a credible campaign, people who understand how it is typically done are raising questions.

Maybe this means she has no intention of running, but what if she does?

As evil as Karl Rove may be, no one disputes his experience as a campaigner. When asked if Palin could wage a non-conventional nomination campaign with any degree of success, his response was:

Her people think so.

They've talked with people about it, whom I talked to, and they've been explicit about it - that she doesn't need to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, press the flesh and go to all these local events in order to cultivate local leadership. She can talk to people over that. She doesn't need to cultivate the fundraisers and the bundlers, because her mere presence in the race will generate the cash needed for the campaign.

Rove added, rather ominously, that she was ignoring the "niceties" at "her own peril."

Scott Conroy, however, at Real Clear Politics takes issue with Rove on this, claiming that doing things the old-fashioned way in Iowa may not matter that much. Consider, he says, that Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich are getting praise for their organizational efforts there yet going nowhere in the polls. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and even Chris Christie, none of whom is even declared, are doing better.

This, he suggests, tells a different story.

First of all, if we are just talking about Iowa, Conroy might be right. Although I was always of the impression that Iowa was all about retail politics, that in smaller races like this it was all about meeting people and pressing the flesh, maybe Palin's brand is such that she can get away without all of that in Iowa. I might even cede the point.

But is there any way a candidate can run a credible campaign for the nomination across the country by running a top-down effort that does not rely on strong organization?

All of Karl Rove's experience tells him that it is not possible. There is just too much work involved, too many fundraising bundlers to organize and stroke, too many opinion leaders to lobby, too many volunteers to care for and feed, too much effort required for a successful "Get Out the Vote" campaign, and on and on.

Maybe that's Palin's problem. She has never been good at understanding the scale of things. Iowa may be an important race in the early days of the GOP nomination, and if she got in she might do well there, but America is a much bigger country and doing things the old-fashioned way in primary after primary is probably still necessary.

Relying on your brand alone to win in Iowa, where a lot of GOP voters may already love you, is different than winning over the long haul.

This is classic Sarah Palin politics: mistaking the little pond for the big pond.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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  • "There is just too much work involved"

    And isn't she the poster child for attention deficit disorder? Or perhaps she's just plain lazy and disorganized, walking away from one school after another, walking away from elected office. A narcissist, perhaps, trying on clothes and roles like a plastic Barbie doll with an empty plastic head.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:05 AM  

  • And yes, she is mistaking a household budget for national finance, classic small pond error. Her followers are spellbound, but I can't see much substance in her words--mostly ADHD repetitive sound bites, with no hint at understanding the larger/deeper picture. She put Obama down, but she would LOVE to be him--as in have his position (the power, the fame); she has no idea what it is really about.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:07 AM  

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