- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

ANALYSIS:

Gov. Sarah Palin’s sudden resignation is the latest shock wave to hit Republicans after two bombshell sex scandals that have plunged the GOP into further turmoil as it struggles to rebuild its tarnished political image.

The Alaska governor, viewed by many as one of the GOP’s most charismatic figures and one of a handful of potential candidates for president in 2012, stunned the party with her abrupt - some say bizarre - decision to leave office a year and a half before her four-year term ends.

Her enigmatic resignation remarks left her many supporters wondering whether she was dropping out of politics altogether or just leaving her trouble-plagued governorship to begin a long campaign for her party’s presidential nomination.

Whichever it is - and she says she will fill in the blanks later - Mrs. Palin’s mercurial decision seemed to further fuel the lightning-rod nature of her political image, which has turned into a soap opera series of controversies, party bickering and tabloid-style family episodes ever since her surprising candidacy as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate last year.

Republicans were already reeling from two womanizing scandals that have dominated much of the news of their party in the past month: Nevada Sen. John Ensign’s admission he had a long extramarital affair with a campaign aide, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s tearful confession that he, too, had an extramarital relationship, with a woman in Argentina.

Both the senator and the governor, who occupied major party leadership positions, from which they have resigned, had presidential ambitions of their own. Now they are fighting growing demands that they, too, resign from their offices.

But interviews with Republicans over the weekend showed they were sympathetic to Mrs. Palin’s troubles in Alaska, saying that she was being relentlessly pounded by phony Democratic ethical charges in an effort to destroy her governorship. Of the 15 ethics investigations launched against her, 13 have found no wrongdoing and were dismissed. Two remaining probes are ongoing.

Mrs. Palin struck back at these probes with her most stinging remarks Friday, saying they were nothing more than a “superficial, wasteful political blood sport” aimed at bringing her down politically.

“People I talk to do not think she has committed any criminal acts at all. A lot of people think that these are witch hunts,” said former longtime Ohio Republican state Chairman Bob Bennett. “I don’t think she has hurt the party. On the contrary, I think she may have helped the party by drawing attention to Democratic abuses of the investigative process in the state.”

Mr. Bennett, along with other Republicans, thinks that whatever troubles the GOP is beset with right now, President Obama and the Democrats are facing much bigger problems on the economy amid growing evidence that the administration’s economic stimulus plan isn’t working.

Polls show that a majority of Americans harbor growing doubts that the stimulus plan will create jobs and have deepening concerns about a $2 trillion deficit and Mr. Obama’s even more massive spending to come.

“The economy is in turmoil right now; unemployment is heading toward 10 percent. And people are worried about their jobs, and they really don’t care about these other political issues,” Mr. Bennett said.

Mrs. Palin’s supporters say that she can become one of the GOP’s most effective weapons against the Democrats in the midterm election cycle and that she will be campaigning for the party’s candidates as she explores her political options for the future.

She gave no clues as to what her immediate plans are for the future, but dropped one tantalizing hint that it will be another surprise.

Quoting Douglas MacArthur, she said, “We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction.”

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