Fox News and Sarah Palin have agreed to a divorce of sorts. Their parting is a part of a Great Sort that's happening now among the personalities and interest groups that make up the Republican Party. Given how infrequently she appeared during the last campaign, it's hard for the "lame-stream media" that Palin crusades against to imagine that she'll be a force in the party again. Matt Lewis, who once called Palin the most significant Republican female voice in a generation, now wonders whether she was a one-hit wonder, a Kathy Troccoli for Whiteopia. Lewis makes the observation that Palin, a political persona with great potential, seemed more interested in the perquisites that came along with her sudden popularity: the television appearances, the instant adulation of crowds that cheered her name, the hint of power that came alongside instant endorsements.
Palin still has a pretty substantial following among Republicans, and she purports to speak for a large subset of them: the conservative talk radio set that has become incredible suspicious of the powers-that-be within the Republican Party. Indeed, her two bugbears today are "those who waive the white flag" and the "get along to go along" party leaders. Understandably, she bears a personal animus towards them. She believes they tore at her family, tried to force her to change, buckled under media pressure, and ultimately are no different than Democrats or the press in their elitism. Palin remains a critic of the press, too, but it has long been obvious that her relationship with the "LSM" is that of a virus to a host. She fed off the attention lavished upon her. And when the LSM's corporate backers came to her offering money in exchange for homespun-wisdom/controversy, she lapped it up. She became in real terms a politician for the Reality Show age of politics, which values and even encourages instinctual, visceral displays of emotion at the expense of other goods.
Palin is not very popular among conservatives, and it's hard to see how (at this point) the party nominates anyone other than Marco Rubio, who is perfectly exploiting his own political moment and positioning himself to unite the party. For Palin to make a comeback, she will have to change. But by change, I don't mean she will have to be any less conservative or change her mind on issues. She does not have to change for the sake of the media. It's just that the GOP is in a more serious moment now. The Romney campaign changed the primary nominating procedures to try and walk back some of the power taken from the central committee by the Tea Party. Palin has endured a presidential campaign, which often is qualification enough for admission to the circle of national voices. But she still remains unidentified with a single issue or cause that could re-ignite interest in her. She rails against "crony capitalism," but she has no solutions for it, and the term remains undefined. Her value to Fox News declined, I think, because she genuinely did not bring a perspective worth the reported $1 million Fox was paying her. Appearing on Greta from her home-based TV studio to say essentially the same thing, over and over again, lacking both the turn-on-a-dime eloquence of Sean Hannity but also the wisdom of the political figure she was supposed to be. Simply put, Palin simply did not do the work. She crested and rolled on the waves of resentment, which are now channeled elsewhere.
Her other big mistake was to not work her activist base. If the Obama campaign has taught us anything, it's that an activist base needs something to do. Palin did nothing. She bought lists and then kind of just let the enthusiasm within Team Palin peter out. Her "base" now is akin to a mostly deflated balloon, and Palin does nothing to give it more air. Her connection with Tea Party groups is tenuous, which is astonishing for someone who gets credit for being the avatar of the Tea Party movement. She did not tend to the donors who supported her, and she did not cultivate a loyal staff.
Sarah Palin won't be able to make a political comeback until she decides to put in the work necessary to make Sarah Palin mean something other than it now does.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Russia's Ukraine invasion is a moral crisis
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- The odds are 11 million to 1 that you'll die in a plane crash
Subscribe to the Week