It’s Over: A Machiavellian Memo

Sarah Palin thinks she is Reaganesque, but the role of resentment in her rhetoric is really more Nixonian. So this is her “Checkers” speech? I don’t think so.

Palin needed to do three things. First, she needed to push back in a way that shifted the perception that she had exercised bad judgment with the Map, to a perception that her opposition had overreacted and treated her unfairly, expressed in such a way that moderates could be receptive to it. This was by no means impossible, as there had been overreactions (one can find dozens of them in New York Times comment threads, usually with the phrase “blood on her hands” in them). Second, she needed to assert leadership by effectively conveying compassion for the victims. Third, she needed to be able to show some measure of responsiveness to the criticism about the Map, perhaps going so far as a faux forthright “I was wrong.” The most effective way to shut down criticism is to concede it in a way that doesn’t really amount to much. She could have said “of course I intended the map to be about preventing the re-election of incumbents, and am saddened to find it may have been interpreted in any other way”—the “I’m sorry you feel that way” kind of apology—and moved on. Much of the right’s response of focusing on the accused’s madness has had a defensive quality to it, but honestly, only a crazy person could seriously think the Map was intended to wish death by gunfire on Democrat incumbents, and there was a way this could’ve been said that appeared neither accusatory nor defensive. Finally, she needed to co-opt the criticism of vitriol, reminding us that the tone of the left during the Bush administration was also dreadful in this regard and that we ALL need to do better. A difficult task, but a first test of presidentiality. This was a huge opportunity for her to redefine herself as a more plausible candidate, and survive. Had she pulled it off, her path to the nomination would’ve been unstoppable, and to the White House conceivable. Now I think it very unlikely. She is now nothing but an entertainer with a niche audience.

She failed because she does not understand the difference between fighting and leading. Some of the above appears to have never even occurred to her advisors, and the necessary pushback was way too strong (her use of the phrase “blood libel” was a huge error of judgment, raising the question of whether her advisors even know the meaning and history of the phrase), making her appear thin-skinned and self-absorbed. A Limbaugh can get away with that, indeed, has to do that to hold the core audience, but not a prospective president. There is no office called President of the Base of My Party. This is the beginning of the end. The right things remain unsaid, and the window is closing.

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5 comments on “It’s Over: A Machiavellian Memo

  1. Samantha Johnston says:

    The Checkers reference brings to mind another well-known bit of speech by the former President: “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” I wonder whether Palin is aware of Nixon’s withdrawal from public life — between November 1960 and the Spring of 1968 — that afforded him time to round the corner from defensive politician to offensive ‘playmaker’ (to borrow sporting parlance). Perhaps two terms out of the political sightlines is in Palin’s mind akin to forever out of mind; if so, she doesn’t give herself very much credit. And if she really is as self absorbed and thin-skinned as she presents — traits also attributed to the former President — then taking a page from his playbook might serve her better than sticking so close to her media perch.

  2. Samantha Johnston says:

    Correction: Nixon’s withdrawal from public life should have read November 1962, not 1960.

  3. Pliny the Elder says:

    The problem with the comparison is that Nixon, for all of his faults, had extensive experience (military, Congress, VP) befoere said “withdrawal”

    • Samantha Johnston says:

      Nevertheless, valid tactical comparisons can be made among office seekers of disparate experience when it’s a high office we’re talking about.

  4. Pliny the Elder says:

    My point was that Palin barely has a public life from which she could withdraw

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