Opinion

Why Fox News fell out of love with Sarah Palin

The GOP's kingmaker wants to move past the former vice presidential nominee — and her natural constituency

Fox News viewers just got some bad news: Sarah Palin has been dumped by the liberal elitists at the network, her contract as a contributor not renewed. One day, your grandchildren will see an old video of her and say, "Who was this spectacular nincompoop?", and you will tell them, "Actually, believe it or not, there was a time when some people thought she should be the most powerful person on Earth."

Don't be too sad for her, because Palin will be fine even if she no longer finds favor in Roger Ailes' eyes. She still has a show on the Sportsman Channel ("Amazing America with Sarah Palin"), which I'm sure is TiVo'd religiously by dozens if not hundreds of loyal viewers. There are presumably paid subscribers to the Sarah Palin Channel, and she's got her PAC. But if you're a conservative and you aren't on Fox, do you really exist?

You have to give Palin some credit for milking her celebrity for all it was worth, and there's no doubt she's as weirdly compelling a political figure as we've seen in decades. No politician has provided so many public catastrophes to gawk at, from her disastrous interviews during the 2008 campaign, to her bizarre speech announcing that she had to resign the Alaska governorship because to finish the term to which she had been elected would be "the quitter's way out," to the time she wrote talking points on her hand that she consulted during a Q&A, to the hilariously nutty word salad of a speech she gave earlier this year at the Iowa Freedom Summit ("The man can only ride ya when your back is bent, so strengthen it! Then the man can't ride ya, America won't be taken for a ride!").

What's most remarkable is that it took Fox so long to sever ties with her (though she was actually demoted some time ago, when they dismantled the studio they had built for her in her house). Palin was terrible at live television, which shouldn't have been surprising to anyone familiar with her particular gifts. That forum requires a quick glibness, the ability to talk smoothly and deliver messages without hesitating or faltering. When she speaks extemporaneously, Palin is forever reaching through a fog of ideas to try to snatch a succession of clauses that might be assembled into something resembling a coherent sentence. You don't have to think Palin is dumb to acknowledge that she isn't at all articulate, and you need to be articulate to be a good TV talker.

Nevertheless, there are people who absolutely adore her, even if their number is relatively small. More than anything else, Palin embodied a politics of resentment, an identity built on sneering at the big-city folk, the over-educated, the insufficiently jingoistic, the secular coastal elites, and anybody else who might be looking down on the virtuous and wise folks for whom she spoke. Where other Republicans dip into that stew of grievance from time to time, Palin marinated in it. If you hate the same people she hates, there was no one who could represent you more enthusiastically and completely.

So it may not be a coincidence that Fox is cutting Palin loose at a time when we aren't hearing quite so much of that conservative anti-elitism, the kind that pins all the country's problems on college professors, Hollywood actors, and the ungrateful minorities on whose behalf they twist our government. Republicans are tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to expand their base beyond the older conservative white people from small towns in the South and Midwest who make up Palin's constituency.

Their presidential candidates may seek those votes in the primaries, but they know that if they're ever going to get the White House back, they're going to need a lot more than the kind of people who tune in to "Amazing America with Sarah Palin." They're going to need young people, and urban dwellers, and Latinos, and the kind of diverse coalition that at least approximates what America looks like in the 21st century. The Republican party may not know how to get them yet, but it knows that figures like Sarah Palin aren't going to help them figure it out.

Palin will still be plying her wares, but she'll do so only in that shrinking corner of our political life where the truth is always simple, things were always better in the old days, and the big-city know-it-alls can go straight to hell. From time to time she'll pop up in the news, for saying something ridiculous and making a fool of herself once again. Republicans who'd like to forget that they once nominated her to be a heartbeat from the presidency will hope that nobody pays attention. And her fans will cheer, sure that all America's problems would have been solved if only more people had listened to her.

Even this liberal can't deny that Palin has never lost her power to fascinate, in the same way a car accident is fascinating. Do I already miss her, even though she's not quite gone? You betcha.

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