The Bullpen

Was Sarah Palin just a fad?

It wasn't so long ago that she was the most talked-about woman in America

Matt K. Lewis

On Friday evening, Real Clear Politics broke the story that Sarah Palin would not be renewing her contract with Fox News. On Saturday, Howard Kurtz reported that the network made a "limited effort" to keep her, and offered her a less-generous contract than it had the first time around.

Kurtz concludes that "Palin's star had faded." Palin was undoubtedly a hotter commodity a few years ago than she is today. Still, I think the issue isn't so much that Palin's star has faded as it is that there are so many new GOP stars on the rise.

Before 2010, almost no one knew who Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie, or Rand Paul were. Today, they are nearly household names and the future of the Republican Party. They are more relevant than Palin. After all, each of them actually holds office — something Palin gave up when she resigned halfway through her gubernatorial term in 2009.

If you're managing the Palin "brand," you've got to be astonished by how many challengers to her market niche have risen so quickly. 

Of course, her departure wasn't a complete surprise. Prior to her split with Fox News, Palin had complained about dwindling appearances on the network. The problem was that the rationale for booking her always had more to do with her cult of personality than her ability to eloquently elevate a discussion about policy or politics.

Like a movie where the concept is better than the execution, having Palin on your show became an end unto itself. She often made news by saying provocative things, but she rarely provided particularly insightful political analysis.

Seasoned campaign veterans like Ed Rollins and brilliant political commentators like Charles Krauthammer can basically live off the land. They will always see something in our politics that the average viewer doesn't. They'll always be able to share some story about how the Gipper or Dick Nixon handled a similar situation. Cable networks aren't paying them for their image, but for their knowledge, insight, and experience — the exact sort of experience Palin lacks. (Of course, it's perfectly understandable that she falls short in these areas, considering she was plucked from relative obscurity less than five years ago...)

This is not to say Palin doesn't have some insight to offer. If you're a producer booking guests for a segment on selecting a vice president, she's a great "get." If the topic is Alaska, energy, or women in politics — by all means, give her a call. 

But those topics don't come up every day. And you certainly don't keep someone on the payroll earning a million bucks a year for it.

The sad thing is that Palin had great potential. I understand why she didn't remain governor of Alaska, though that office would have provided a platform for political relevance. And I fully appreciate that she probably earned more money (and possibly made a bigger difference in the short term) by eschewing the advice so many offered — that she should go back to Alaska after 2008 and bone up on the issues. And who knows, maybe she will make a comeback. After all, Glenn Beck may not have his own Fox News show anymore, but he is wildly successful on the internet. Maybe Palin will reinvent herself as the conservative Oprah?

A couple years ago, I felt that Palin was arguably the most significant female politician of the young 21st century. But for today at least, it looks more like she might have been a fad — a sort of one-hit wonder who burned bright, but flamed out way too quickly.

If politics is increasingly becoming about entertainment (and, sadly, I think it is), it only stands to reason that while some stars (like Madonna) can reinvent themselves for a few decades, others will quickly rise, and quickly fall. The public is fickle, and fame is hard. And when your fame isn't about deep substance, you always live with the risk that someone fresher and shinier will come along and displace you.

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