'Not Politics as Usual': Analysts Struggle With Palin's Motivations

Is Palin making an unconventional move toward a 2012 run -- or dodging trouble?

July 4, 2009, 8:30 AM

July 4, 2009 — -- What in the world does Sarah Palin have in mind?

Politicians and analysts have been scrambling to make sense of Palin's sudden and unexpected announcement Friday that she will resign as governor of Alaska at the end of the month -- an announcement that gave only conflicting hints about her true motivation or future plans.

"I don't know if there's gonna be another shoe to drop," said Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report. "But this one wasn't merely a shoe. It was a boot and it landed with a thud."

Todd Purdum, political correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine, said, "The one predictable thing about her is unpredictability."

Appearing on ABC News' "Good Morning America," Purdham said, "I think on some level, she was sick of the whole thing."

A source close to Palin told ABC News that the resignation was purely a decision about Alaska and has no bearing on whether she will later decide to pursue another political office.

"She just made a decision not to run for re-election in Alaska and decided to stop the vindictiveness and legal fees" of persistent ethics complaints she's fended off, the source said. "You can argue with that choice, but it's what she decided."

The source insisted there is no scandal she's avoiding.

Rather, Palin has a number of "unbelievable opportunities" she can pursue, the source said, adding that Palin will finish a book, which is already being written, in the spring of 2010. She will raise money for candidates, raise money for charities and give speeches.

"Then she will decide what to do for 2012," the source said. "She has made no decision on 2012."

In an exclusive interview with "This Week" to air Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden, Palin's 2008 election rival, dismissed her complaint that she'd been the subject of a "political blood sport," but said he accepted her explanation that her resignation was personal.

"Those who've been deeply involved in politics know at the end of the day that it is really and truly a personal deal," Biden said, "and personal family decisions have a real impact on people's decisions."

Some see Palin's move as a part of her strategy to run for president in 2012 or capitalize on her celebrity status to benefit the Republican Party.

Soon after she made her announcement, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele touted her qualifications saying, "She is an important and galvanizing voice in the Republican Party. I believe she will be very helpful to the Party this year as we wage critical campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey."

However, a former McCain-Palin campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, doubted Palin's prospects for a successful run at the party's nomination in 2012.

"She has become a damaging figure on the Republican stage," said the campaign official. "There's been no one handling her for eight to nine months, and when you saw this [resignation on Friday] it was incoherent. And that's not this party's answer to Barack Obama and getting on its feet."

Rothenberg had a similar take.

"The criticism has been that she's rather thin in the resume, and [that] she doesn't seem particularly serious or thoughtful," he said. "This kind of act, I think, only adds to that impression. It doesn't help her redefine herself."

Sarah Palin Announces Resignation

In a news conference on Friday from her Wasilla, Alaska, home, the first-term GOP governor said she was yielding her office soon to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, also a Republican, adding, "This decision has been in the works for awhile," and, "I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual."

Palin, 45, did not take questions after her announcement, but compared herself to a good basketball point guard facing "a full court press from the national level."

"She knows exactly when to pass the ball so that a team can win," Palin said.

Palin's decision not to run for re-election was not a bombshell on its own but, rather, her choice to resign at the end of the month was seen as a curve ball.

Indeed, many analysts believed it would have been tough for her to win re-election in November 2010 in Alaska and then try to campaign in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina if Palin has aspirations for the 2012 presidential race.

The logistics of dealing with an Alaska legislative season in 2011 while spending time campaigning in the lower 48 would have been daunting, analysts say.

Gerry McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, said Palin still appears to be an attractive political figure on a sparse Republican presidential landscape.

"From what we know right now," McBeath told ABC News Radio, "she's not under any major investigation. There have been a minor series of ethical flaps, mostly from opposition figures in the state."

Even so, the breathless and sudden delivery of Palin's announcement prompted some puzzled reactions among analysts.

"It's mystifying," said ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts. "It was a bizarre statement. It didn't make a lot of sense, and it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing someone would do if someone was running for president."

But Fred Malek, a veteran Republican operative and Palin adviser, told ABC News that Palin intends to continue to be helpful to other Republicans and is leaving her political options open.

"She's not going to go hide in a cave," Malek said. "She'll continue to be a major friend and force for Republican figures in this country."

Malek said Palin is not ruling out a return to politics, although she has no plans on the horizon to seek another office.

Other supporters were equally upbeat about her future.

"People here are collectively agreeing that it sheds everything she doesn't like about running government now and allows her to devote fulltime to this passion she has about wanting to lead the country away from socialism," said Alaska legislative aide Larry Persily, who worked with the governor in Alaska, and later as her representative in Washington, D.C.

The McCain campaign did not immediately comment Friday, though McCain himself issued a written statement Saturday.

"I have the greatest respect and affection for Sarah, [her husband] Todd, and their family," McCain said. "I was deeply honored to have her as my running mate and believe she will continue to play an important leadership role in the Republican Party and our nation."

Earlier this week, Palin and her political operation were portrayed in an unflattering light in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Purdum wrote that it appears Palin has few friends left among the political team assigned to her by the McCain's campaign.

"In recent rounds of long conversations, most made it clear that they suffer a kind of survivor's guilt: they can't quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, they worked their tails off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who, by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be," Purdum wrote.

Following her announcement Friday, the Republican Governors Association issued a statement touting the fact that Alaska will remain in GOP hands.

"While we regret the news announced by Governor Palin today, Alaska will continue to have a Republican governor through 2010 and we are confident the state will elect a Republican in next year's election," RGA executive director Nick Ayers said.

"The RGA's focus remains firmly on the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia this year, and the 37 gubernatorial elections that will take place in 2010. We know that winning these races is the most important task facing our Party over the next two years."

Palin Remained In Public Eye After Campaign

In a written statement, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said, "I'm as surprised as all Alaskans by Gov. Palin's decision to step down with nearly two years left in her term. There was speculation she would not seek re-election, but she gave no indication of a resignation when I met with her for 45 minutes in her Anchorage office two days ago."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was a GOP presidential candidate last year, issued a statement today, saying, "I wish Sarah Palin and her family well, and I know that she will continue to be a strong voice in the Republican Party."

Since the Republican ticket lost the presidential election, Palin has remained front and center on the national stage -- whether fundraising for the GOP, garnering publicity about her personal life as an athletic and busy, working mother, or demanding an apology from late-night TV host David Letterman for off-color comments about one of her daughters.

Palin has fought hard to maintain her image in the process, and today she said that effort has cost a significant amount of money.

"This political absurdity, the politics of personal destruction, Todd and I, we are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills, just in order to set the record straight," she said.

"My choice is to take a stand and effect change and not just hit our head against the wall and watch valuable state time and money, millions of your dollars, go down the drain," Palin said.

Meantime, many people have an unfavorable opinion of the McCain's pick for vice president. According to a CNN poll last month, 46 percent expressed a favorable opinion of her overall and 43 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion.

Shortly after the election, 52 percent surveyed in a Gallup poll said they'd prefer not to see Palin as a major political figure in the future, compared to 45 percent who would.

"I'm doing what's best for Alaska and I've explained why," she said.

ABC News' Kate Barrett, Rick Klein, David Chalian and Desiree Adib contributed to this report.

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