|Is it Really the End of Sarah Palin?|
|Reporters Notebook: By SHUSHANNAH WALSHE (@shushwalshe)||Jan 29, 2013, 10:50 AM|
Sarah Palin's break up with Fox News should not have been, well, breaking news, as she had publicly complained in August on Facebook that the network had canceled her appearances at the Republican National Convention. And going back even further, Palin didn't give Fox the scoop in October 2011 when she announced she wasn't going to run for president. Still, the news of the Fox split overtook Twitter and the news cycle by storm.
One thing I've learned in my years covering Palin, which began on Aug. 29, 2008, when Sen. John McCain stunned the country by selecting her as his running mate: Everyone has an opinion on whatever she does, and she can get clicks and coverage like no one else.
The prevailing theory now is that since Palin no longer has a megaphone like Fox News through which she can blast her opinions, her moment is now officially over.
The 'Ends' of Sarah Palin
It might be true, but there have been so many "ends of Sarah Palin" that it's almost too hard to keep track of them all. She was over when she lost the 2008 campaign, she was over when she quit the Alaska governorship, she was over when she decided to do a reality show, she was over when she decided not to run for president, and now again, she's over because her appearances on Fox News are over.
I, for one, did think Palin would lose her relevancy when she quit the Alaska governorship, and also when she didn't run for president. But in both cases, people who both love her and hate her just couldn't get enough information about her, and she still got an incredible amount of news coverage. Her voice was heard loud and clear, even if it blasted only from her Facebook posts. That's just another example of what she's been able to pull off that others who've come before or after just haven't. Palin's been written off from Day One, but like a boomerang, she just keeps coming back.
Yes, she wasn't really helpful to Mitt Romney's campaign, but she also never really explicitly backed him. And what an odd pair they would have made if she had. In her interview last weekend with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News who made "The Undefeated," the positive 2011 movie about her, she said, "The problem is that some on the right are now skittish because of the lost 2012 election. They shouldn't be. Conservatism didn't lose. A moderate Republican candidate lost after he was perceived to alienate working-class Reagan Democrats and independent voters." Not a sign that she wants to rethink some of her policy points, or that she will retreat into the shadows.
Another Possible TV Home
I think more likely than her fading away (we all still cover every eyebrow-raising Facebook post of hers) is that she will possibly find an on-air home elsewhere, at somewhere like CNN. She told Breitbart.com that she "encourages others to step out in faith, jump out of the comfort zone, and broaden our reach as believers in American exceptionalism. That means broadening our audience. I'm taking my own advice here as I free up opportunities to share more broadly the message of the beauty of freedom and the imperative of defending our republic and restoring this most exceptional nation. We can't just preach to the choir; the message of liberty and true hope must be understood by a larger audience."
Later in the interview, she added, "I know the country needs more truth-telling in the media, and I'm willing to do that. So, we shall see."
Is Palin possibly hinting that she is at least open to the fact that she might go to another television home? It sounds like it. Of course Fox did build a studio in her Wasilla home, something that must have been an expensive undertaking. But now Palin spends a good deal of time in Arizona, where she owns a second home, and studios are much easier to find than in the Anchorage suburbs.
In an interview with ABC News, Bannon, who remains close to Palin, said he didn't think she would go to another network, saying, "I don't anticipate she would ever do punditry again," but as we've all learned when it comes to Palin, "expect the unexpected."
"I think people underestimate her all the time," Bannon said. "She has two things the factotums in the Republican Party can't replicate. (A): charisma and (B): the ability to connect to working men and women in this country. Until the Republican establishment finds a way to appeal to working men and women in this country, they will remain the minority party."
Bannon also hinted at what could turn from a brewing argument to all-out war between "establishment Republicans" and Palin. It's a group she has criticized but has also clearly benefited from -- ever since her "discovery" by Bill Kristol to her position at Fox News.
"The Republican establishment fears Gov. Palin for one simple reason: She is somebody the grassroots movement and the populist part of the Republican Party looks to for leadership. ... It's time for her to look for other avenues, other venues," Bannon said.
"For those that have written her off, I would not short Sarah Palin," said Bannon, using Wall Street language.
On Breitbart.com, Palin also hinted at the battle, saying, "We're not going to be able to advance the cause of limited constitutional government unless we deal with these big government enablers on our side. And this all ties into the problem of crony capitalism and the permanent political class in the Beltway. We need to consistently take them on election after election – ever vigilant."
One thing I've learned covering Palin so closely for so many years is the loyalty she inspires in her most devoted supporters. But she also inspires hate in a way that's hard to compare to other public figures, either politicians or celebrities.
It might be a small group of diehards, but they've made it clear since the Fox News announcement they aren't going anywhere, and I think we can expect them to stay loyal in whatever reinvention Palin does next.
That's not something I thought would happen after they clearly wanted her to run for president -- some so loyal they headed to Iowa to start building a grassroots campaign on her behalf without pay ---but they have stayed her fierce defenders.
No matter what Palin ends up doing, she leaves this act with a lot of money, more money than she probably could have imagined when she joined McCain's ticket. A study by SmartPolitics released Monday estimated that the former Alaska governor spoke more than 189,000 words in 150 appearances on Fox, and because of her million-dollar per year contract, it adds up to $15.85 per word.
Part of the Debate and the Fight for the Party
Of course, Palin does want more than just piles of money, and that's why you won't see her going anywhere.
She wants a voice and wants to be part of the debate, especially when it comes to deciding the shape of the future Republican Party, and she'll do that by backing House and Senate candidates.
It's something we saw in the primaries, where some of her endorsements clearly helped, although it's hard to tell by how much. Deb Fischer pulled off a surprise win in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary, then defeated Bob Kerrey. Palin also backed Richard Mourdock, who won his high-profile primary against the six-term Dick Lugar, but thanks to his bizarre comments about rape, he lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly.
She also backed Ted Cruz, who was victorious in Texas. But many other conservatives did just as well. And her record wasn't perfect, but even those moments weren't always mistakes. In the GOP Senate primary, she backed Sarah Steelman over Todd Akin. Akin, of course won, but after his disastrous comments about "legitimate rape" Palin told Fox News Channel's Greta van Susteren she "won't gloat about it, but I was right."
I think it's very clear she will get involved in the midterm elections, especially in the primaries. She told Bannon that "focus on the 2014 election is also imperative. It's going to be like 2010, but this time around we need to shake up the GOP machine that tries to orchestrate away too much of the will of constitutional conservatives who don't give a hoot how they do it in D.C. D.C. is out of touch, obviously."
It's easy to write her off, but if we take a look back at the many times so many people have and how much she clearly enjoys proving those people wrong, I think it's pretty easy to tell that another reinvention of Sarah Palin is more likely. As she told Breitbart, "We delight in those who underestimate us."
I don't believe an Arizona (or Alaska) Senate run is something that will happen, nor will there be another cycle of "will she-won't she run for president," but she'll likely want to keep us guessing, telling Bannon, "As far as long-term plans, the door is wide open."
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for ABC News and is also the co-author of "Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar."