Not long ago, conservatives like myself were thrilled to find out that Fox News, often portrayed as the mouthpiece of the conservative movement, had parted ways with former governor of Alaska (and quitter) Sarah Palin. This was truly a cause for celebration. Those of us devoted to building a conservative movement capable of winning elections had come to view the former governor as the symbol of everything, and I do mean everything, wrong with the modern conservative movement.
But now, Roger Ailes has rehired her. And in so doing, Ailes has issued a painful reminder that he cares far more about making money than he does about informing his viewers — or even winning elections for the Republican Party.
To be sure, I admire and recognize Palin's remarkable political ability. Her political instincts are sublime, as evidenced by the way crowds of very honorable and intelligent Americans connected with her during her campaign. But while having good political instincts may well make you a hit on the campaign trail, and might even score you a victory or two in elections, those who are all sizzle and no steak get found out soon enough. And never in the history of the United States has anyone ever been found out quite the way Gov. Palin was.
Before John McCain nominated Palin to be his running mate in 2008, the Republican Party was already in lousy shape. But Palin was rock bottom. She simply did not know enough to engage anyone on any matter of substance, and that was a highly damning fact that shaped the modern perception of the Republican Party. It plagued us in the last election, and continues to hamper us to this day. Because of Palin's lack of education on matters of substance, and because so many in the movement embraced her in spite of that utter cluelessness, most voters came to view the party as a movement driven by charismatic but uneducated leaders followed by hordes of hero worshipers too oblivious or uninterested to contemplate the sorts of disaster that might follow if someone like Palin were actually elected.
Thankfully, in the years since the disaster that was the 2008 election, many of the shooting-star hacks who captured the imagination of conservatives have been discredited, have disappeared, or were discredited and then disappeared. Palin did not run for president in 2012, and while Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all had brief moments during the campaign, the Republicans settled on a startlingly serious group of candidates to run against Obama. I know, I know. Mitt Romney did not run a very solid campaign. But his failures as a candidate do not diminish what is undeniably true about the ticket: Mitt Romney is an incredibly bright, incredibly educated man who sported a resume that, by any measure, demonstrated that he had the brains and the background (if not the charisma) to become president of the United States. As for Paul Ryan, say what you will about him or his economic ideas, but it is hard to imagine a candidate less like Sarah Palin. Ryan is literally a deficit nerd who spent his time studying the nuances and details of the budget-making process. It's not sexy, but no one can accuse the man of not being serious minded.
Even though we lost in 2012, the candidates we Republicans chose were somewhat encouraging, if only because the choice combated a sinister and well-deserved perception: That the conservative movement was a party that rejected education, science, economics, and ideas generally. Then Fox got rid of Palin — a welcome turn. Instead of Palin, Fox would perhaps go get a guest that knows a few things about policymaking. And Fox was much, much better for it.
Suddenly, Fox News was actually… not making the Republican Party look horrible. But then Roger Ailes reminded me why I loathed conservative media so much in the first place. Conservative media has never been about conservatism, and has always been about using conservatism as a vehicle to make money. Roger Ailes doesn't care about how the GOP is perceived or whether it wins elections. If Sarah Palin draws eyes, that's who he is going to put on TV. So back comes Sarah Palin to make conservatives look clueless, and on and on it goes. Sometimes I just want to cry.