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.