Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has a lot going for her at the moment, but a lot to prove, too, if she hopes to build her conservative grassroots support beyond the tea party movement that is fueling her meteoric rise as one of the GOP’s top presidential contenders.
Palin has been drawing big crowds during her unending Going Rogue book tour, strategically hitting all of the major red states that will be critical to any 2012 campaign. She has stepped up her whirlwind speaking tour as well, almost exclusively in venues that are packed with adoring fans.
She has been reaching out to the growing tea party armies that have become her political base, most notably this past weekend at a convention in Nashville which by any measure was a huge success. For several days, before and after her appearance, she made all of the nightly news shows that focused on the gathering, its agenda and her role as its star keynote speaker where she delivered a withering attack on President Obama and his failed policies.
No other potential Republican contender has gotten this much media coverage this early. Indeed, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, certainly one of the GOP’s major leaders, and Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty are getting nowhere near the same attention. Though Romney was much in demand earlier this year at Republican congressional retreats where he outlined, in considerable detail, what he sees as the party’s future agenda and the political path that can return the GOP back to power.
But the difference between Palin’s approach to her future presidential plans and that of her potential rivals is that she isn’t being coy about her big ambitions. She told Fox News Sunday that she isn’t ruling out a run for the GOP’s presidential nomination and would “certainly” run “if I believed that that is the right thing to do for our country.”
Her speech at the tea party gathering in Nashville was filled with many campaign zingers at Obama, whom she predicts cannot win a second term, but there was little in-depth focus on policy, on the economy or on foreign affairs, which at this point is not her strong suit.
Still, she delivered the red meat attack lines that is the stuff of political rallies which is what her audience wanted to hear and what gets her the kind of media attention that for the time being has made her one of the GOP’s major political stars and its most sought-after speaker.
But several important ingredients are missing here. She has not as yet surrounded herself with top name economic, foreign policy and national security advisers. She has not delivered detailed addresses that make the case for the kinds of policies the country needs right now to create jobs, win the war on terrorism and put America back on the right track.
She abruptly resigned the governorship when the going got tough and Democrats were pelting her with one ethics investigation after another. None of them yielded any significant wrongdoing, but it was enough to drive her out of office — a weakness that undermines her own reputation for toughness, and that may come back to haunt her future presidential ambitions.
She seems to be building her support almost exclusively among tea party voters who packed town hall meetings last year that helped to bring down Obama’s health care plan. But there is littlle or no evidence that she has drawing power among the nation’s independents who have fled from Obama and the Democrats in droves, but are not drawn to Palin’s banner — at least not yet.
Independents — swing voters who owe no allegiance to either party — put Republicans back in the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and handed Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to the GOP. No Republican is going to win back the White House witthout them.
That will be Sarah Palin’s next big hurdle. Is she up to it?