It's too early to count Sarah Palin out
I believe that people who underestimate Sarah Palin do so at their own risk, but according to recent polls, a lot of people are willing to take that risk.
She has been battered by her use of cross hairs in an ad targeting the district of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot on Jan. 8 along with 18 others in Tucson. Palin has used fighting words like “Don’t retreat, reload,” and she used the slur “blood libel” to defend herself in a recent video. As a result, she has built up some pretty high unfavorable ratings in the past few days.
A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Palin with a 56 percent unfavorable rating, and a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll shows her with a 53 percent unfavorable rating. Both polls were conducted before Palin appeared Monday in a live interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, however, so they are snapshots in time already outdated by events, the risk inherent in all polling.
By way of comparison, Rasmussen Reports showed President Barack Obama with a 56 percent disapproval rating last December, though he had moved back to 51 percent as of Wednesday. How much attention should you pay to such polls? Not a lot.
As I said, they can change quickly and are affected by daily events and news media coverage. Although some conservatives felt Palin just dug herself in deeper on Hannity’s show — David Frum said, “She should stop talking now” — I thought she did fine.
In fact, whenever Palin stays within her comfort zone, which is a zone containing a sympathetic interviewer with no tough, let alone “gotcha,” questions, she usually does fine.
That is probably not sustainable for an entire presidential election campaign in 2012, but one should not overestimate how much the American voter values intelligence. Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore (who won the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes) and John Kerry were probably hurt more than helped by their intelligence. Bill Clinton masked his intelligence during his first presidential campaign with his “Man From Hope” video and his Bubba image, which were designed to make voters forget he was actually the man from Georgetown, Oxford and Yale Law.
Palin will never have the problem of appearing too intelligent, though when she went up against Joe Biden in a 90-minute vice presidential debate in 2008, she did not fall off the stage. And he did not wipe the floor with her. I, for one, thought she kept him on the defensive — who can forget her wink? — though Biden did have the twin burdens of masking his own intelligence while not appearing to be sneering and superior toward a woman.
As Katie Couric of “The CBS Evening News” demonstrated, however, Palin is not good under pressure or with quizzes.
So you really can’t see Russia from Alaska? And Palin really couldn’t name a single newspaper or magazine that she read? So what?
One should never underestimate the power of a candidate who can make an emotional connection to voters. Ronald Reagan said all sorts of outrageous things, both as a candidate and as president. Often, he would cull them from magazines and would not bother to check whether they were true. “Like any other speaker,” Reagan once told a reporter, “I’d see something and I’d say, ‘Hey, that’s great,’ and use it.”
Did people care? Nah, they loved Ronnie. Palin is no Reagan — she lacks the ideological footing he had, for one thing — but she does know how to connect with people, even if they are not the same people most of the media hang out with.
The best thing you can probably say about her whole cross hairs/reload/blood libel thing is that it was a mistake, and if you are going to make mistakes in a presidential race, it is best to do so early.
This is still early, and Palin still has time to both educate herself and grow more skilled at handling the nonadoring media.
And if Palin’s whole “Mama Grizzly” image will never gain support among liberals, well, that is not the base she is stalking.
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