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Re-Branding The GOP: Why Sarah Palin Was The Wrong Choice

At the risk of upsetting some conservatives, let me tell you why I believe McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin was a poor choice.  Although she did motivate and excite the party base, it was only a momentary blip rather than a long term movement.  It was just too obvious that McCain picked her not because of her expertise and leadership, but because he was trying to court Hillary’s female voters.  It was a strategic and desperate risk, and eventually people
saw it for the pandering it really was.

There’s no question that Sarah has charisma, she’s good on camera, and she connects with an audience.   She was brutalized unfairly in the media, but welcome to conservative-land.  More important – she was simply not ready.  In order to shore up McCain’s dying bid, I’m afraid he pulled her out before she was really prepared, and I think it will hurt her – and the GOP – in the long term.

As I say in my book “Branding Faith,” the public is very unforgiving.  If you make a strategic mistake – particularly when it comes to trust – it’s very tough to win back the support of your audience.  That’s why I’m skeptical that even with years to grow and learn, if she can come back.

And perhaps more important
– in picking Sarah Palin – the Republican Party threw all their eggs in the “regular guy” basket.  The GOP has built a long term strategy based on  criticizing the “elites” and intellectuals, and trying to identify with the regular guy on the street.  Gaining the support of Middle Class America is good, but the truth is, elites and intellectuals matter.  The brain trust of this country is important, and we need to find and develop the conservative elites – the men and women who can articulate why conservatives believe what they believe, and what our vision for the future should be.

Joe the plumber is not that guy.

In order to re-brand the GOP, we need to stop marginalizing the smart guys in the room, and start mentoring and developing the next generation of conservative intellectuals.  We need a philosophical well to draw from and to base our policy.  Where’s the William F. Buckley of this generation?  Where are the men and women who can express the conservative vision, and lead a new generation?

Sarah Palin has guts, charisma, and courage.  But you can’t expect the American people to stand behind someone who makes us worry every time she’s interviewed on national TV.   Will she make a mistake?  Will she look foolish?

Had McCain made a better choice this time around, Sarah would have had more time to develop, grow, and season.  Then, she might have been a more formidable candidate for the future.  But after 6 months of ridicule on national TV – some of it with good reason – it will be tough to regain America’s confidence.

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  1. "Sarah Palin has guts, charisma, and courage.  But you can’t expect the American people to stand behind someone who makes us worry every time she’s interviewed on national TV.   Will she make a mistake?  Will she look foolish?—"

    Really? George W.  ring a bell? Two terms for a guy who couldn't make it through the first 20 pages of War & Peace.

    I kept thinking anytime that the Bush Administration would trot out Osama on a leash, and revive the fear mongering that has kept it in power. But alas.

    While these proposed radical shifts in GOP branding would be fantastic and effective, moderate course corrections would have stemmed the tide. The country wasn't unified against McCain / Palin but rather punished him for sins of his predecessor.  Labeled as Bush's Lackey, McCain had an uphill climb from the jump. 

    More alarming is the brewing racial tension in our classrooms, our workplaces and our pews. Feels like a powderkeg convention at a matchbook plant.


  2. I like her… alot.

    But it was the wrong choice. Frankly, if Mitt would have been on the ticket, America would have leaned that way when the stock market/banks fell into crisis.

  3. I've been reading many similar thoughts re: Palin & the problem with the GOP. However, most of them have come from the fiscal conservative/social liberal/non-faith perspective.

    You make some fair points, I think. Palin, as great as she was/is, was not really ready. Of course, it can be argued that she had more executive experience than the man we elected … but the perception is that Palin is not ready for prime time and Obama was … well, ready.

    However, I disagree with you that the answer is to stop "mariginalizing the smart guys" in the GOP room. What smart guys have been kicked out or marginalized in any other way than that many vociferously disagreed with them? Many left (Christopher Buckley, for example; Colin Powell, for another) of their own volition, citing supposed Republican narrow-mindedness & ultra-conservatism.

    But where is the evidence that the conservative wing of the Republican party is the problem? Is it in the passing of Prop. 8 in CA? Is in the radical beliefs of Sarah Palin? If so, which one, specifically?

    I guess my thing is that I keep hearing the moderates say much the same kind of thing you have here, but I have yet to see them paint a picture of what this "revitalized" & "moderated, centered" GOP would look like. Will it consist of more people like Peggy Noonan & Scott McClellan who seem to be willing to be bullied or impressed out of holding onto the beliefs they professed for years?

    I did not vote for Gordon Smith here in Oregon and it looks like I was not the only Republican to reject his moderateness on many issues. The answer is not to drift away from our ideals, but to better explain them, convince more, argue with logic and passion — beat 'em, rather than join 'em.

    Thanks for you thoughts. 

  4. A very interesting article, however I slightly disagree with your premise.

    She was only the wrong choice in one aspect. She should have been at the top of the ticket.

    The election was lost because McCain did not run as a conservative.

    The next Republican needs to stand for their principles and speak clearly with conviction and without shame.

    Regarding Palin's TV interviews, it's important to look back at history. When Reagan gave interviews, his staff was nervous every time, remember? He was the actor, who was raised by an alcoholic father, a divorcee who they said could not be smart enough to be even Governor. Yet he was the one single-handedly who brought down the Iron Curtain.

    Sarah Palin has a lot of tweaking to do, and I would not count her out.

    On the night we first saw Sarah Palin, I saw Reagan in a skirt. Michael Reagan admits the same when he first heard her speak. What we need is leaders that have guts, determination and courage.

    We have had conservatives in the past who were able to communicate this ideology of conservatism such as Goldwater, Reagan and Buckley. It has not gone away and is being revived.

    An up and coming conservative is Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. At age 36, Jindal became the youngest current governor in the United States. He also became the first non-white to serve as governor of Louisiana since P. B. S. Pinchback during Reconstruction, and the first elected Indian American governor in U.S. history.

  5. Your comment about W. is incorrect as to his intelligence. W. had a higher I.Q. than both Gore and Kerry. Was Governor of TX, oil man and owner of the TX Rangers. Unlike Gore, Kerry and Barry Barak Hussein Obama which all had government jobs.

    Quit drinking the CNN Kool Aid.

  6. You know I really really wanted her to be bright – heck, at least average. Shes a lovely lady with an amazing family. She actually reminds me of my wife.

    Honestly, after seeing the Couric interview, I think shes struggling to reach "average". It pains me to say that, but I think we need to be honest with ourselves.

    Running for President is a really tough job, and you have to be smart. Period.

    You have to be a whole lot of other things as well – but you still have to be smart. 

    Does she know the significance of an inverted yield curve? Can she name every country in South America? Can she spell her vegetables? Does she know that the Russians inflicted 75% of German casualties in WW2? Does she have a working knowledge of the Koran? What about the 6 day war? Could she pass an undergraduate accounting test? 

    I'm sure there are thousands of Republicans who could, and who are just as charismatic. 



  7. If I'm not mistaken, it was William F. Buckley that said he'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 "Joe the Plumbers" in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people of the faculty of Harvard University.



    Dude, You are correct;)


    Whining that conservatives have lost touch with their intellectual roots, David Brooks inexplicably writes:

    Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. Richard Weaver wrote a book called, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Russell Kirk placed Edmund Burke in an American context. William F. Buckley famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn’t believe those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.

    Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.

  9. I am just amazed by the comments about Sarah Palin. B.O. made this woman look like the star inductee of Menza. He said some real doozies out on the campaign trail and really only said one thing that connected with the uncritical public. Then talking about her on the basis of her looks…really. Amazing…at least we have gotten past the skin color barrier. I guess the next thing will be the gender barrier, won't it gentlemen? I guess the tabloid media really has affected America's critical thinking skills. 

  10. While I agree with some of your general points, I have to disagree with a couple of your specifics. Firstly, I believe you are wrong ab out Mrs. Palin’s future. My step-son is a Dentist in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, and I have been following her career for more than two years. From what I can tell betting against her is not a good way to pad your retirement. One Alaska newspaper columnist labels her ability to come through impossible political situations smelling like a rose as “Sarah-dipity”. What we forget is that her rise to fame was breathtaking in its trajectory. I am told that prior to giving that wildly praised GOP Convention speech in front of millions of viewers, the largest crowd she had spoken to was about 700 people at a rally in Anchorage. And keep in mind that after only five weeks in the national eye she debated a 35-year Senate veteran, who had run for President twice, and had been in nearly a dozen national debates, and almost 40% of the American people thought she won. That is a miracle on par with the parting of the Red Sea. She failed miserably in a couple of interviews with Katy Kouric, but the press has an approval rating in the range of the current President, so I believe that will soon be forgotten. Mrs. Palin’s face has been on television as much in the last few days following the election as it was during the Campaign. She just finished a long, very successful interview with Matt Lauer of the Today Show from the kitchen of her Wasilla home. And, her poll numbers have actually been rising since the election. She was the hit of the recent GOP Governor’s Conference. Look for Sarah Palin to be a force in our political future and one of the few bright spots for conservatives and the Republican Party during the next decade, or more.
    Secondly, while I agree with your belief that demonizing intellectuals is a mistake and weakens our society, I disagree with the way you group intellectuals and elites. I believe these are two entirely separate groups with opposite influences on our society. Intellectuals absorb the archive of information our culture has amassed then teach it to others and make sure it is passed on to future generations. Elites take advantage of the privileges of birth or position to wield power over others. I see people like Dinesh D’Souza as intellectuals,and those like Richard Dawkins as elites. I believe most of the rhetoric of Palin and Joe the Plumber was anti-elite, not anti-intellectual, as it should have been.

  11. Palin wasn't the problem, it was her running mate. She drew rock star crowds almost everywhere she went, in spite of getting hammered daily by the MSM. The Republican problem was that McCain was the guy they chose to lead the ticket. Is Palin smart enough or ready enough to lead the country? She definitely didn't have the luxury of preparing for this moment over a number of years, if not  a lifetime like some other politicians. She had a couple of weeks to absorb all the info she needed, and that obviously wasn't enough. But had she not run with McCain, Obama might have gotten the landslide that was predicted. I know exit polls are untrustworthy at times, but they did show that she attracted as many, if not more, voters to the ticket as McCain.

  12. A little late to the conversation but for what it's worth…this entire election cycle was destined or doomed to be historic; but the candidates, as strong or as weak as they were, or were perceived to be, played their roles against a cultural and economic backdrop that wouldn't have been imaginable a decade or two ago.

    I don't think McCain was a strong candidate for his party, but the party nominated him.  The same with Palin; I believe her qualifications are far below the bar of acceptablility but she was embraced and rallied around by the true believers as though she would be the salvation of the election.  Wasn't going to happen. 

    Talking values and ideals is all fine and good but the bottom line is who did a better job at connecting and communicating with voters, and we have our answer.  I don't think it's that the Democratic party or ticket has a (necessarily) better plan or is more moral or has a greater vision for the country's future.  But compared to the bumbling ineptitude of the McCain campaign and the Republican party's efforts this time around, the Dems deserved to win. 

    Like many, I'm uncertain as to what the next four or eight years may bring, but I'm not wringing my hands and crying in my Tanqueray and tonic over it either.  Once in office, neither candidate would be able to make a serious impact on many of the issues that were discussed or promises that were made during the campaign.  But I think, at least I hope, we may be surprised in a positive way by some of the things that will happen in the next four or eight years.

    As far as branding is concerned, I think the biggest challenge the Republican party faces is defining who and what they are, presenting that in relevant and credible ways to the American public and seeing if anybody cares.  Because of shifting economic and cultural factors, that task will be dramatically different than it would have been even a decade ago.  And unless they are able to build potential candidates who resonate with the American public, the results in '12 or '16 may be little different.  As a voter and an independent, I don't want to hear reasons why I shouldn't vote for the Democratic candidate; I want to hear reasons why I should vote for the Republican.  The party has lost its focus and direction and gosh darn it, putting a minor-league player like Palin on the ticket only guarantees its failure.

    Bottom line:  you want my vote?  Earn it.

  13. While President Bush's IQ may be high, it has not be evidenced in many of unscripted appearances. 

    I might note, too, that Kool-Aid is consumed on both sides of the fence. Not saying that you drank it — but rather it seems a bit harsh to presume someone else has. 

  14. I would have to agree with this – one point not stated is that it seems McCain's strategy was created to counter the strategy of Obama – in my opinion this was one of his greatest strategic errors as Obama's strategy was spot on what the people wanted. Although different than his component, running such a completely different strategy caused more pain than pleasure for the conservative team, because they no longer represented what the people wanted – they represented what Obama wasn't.

  15. I belive Sarah Palin has been "Quayled"  –  Jindal on the other hand is the real deal.  Don't forget Tim Pawlenty, he is not as good a speaker, but has potential to ignite the base.

  16. I believe McCain played into Obama's hands.  McCain read the country wrong.  He thought he had to start with the base.  I looked at it in reverse.  I believe that McCain's strength was the middle. He should have rallied independents.  He didn't have any brain trust around him to do anything different than any GOP candidate has done in the last 25 years.  Same rhetoric, different decade.  I should know, I was the RNC press secretary in 1987.

    McCain should have made the issue Gridlock.   Not Iraq, not healthcare, ineffective government. In that case, if it was made from the snows of Iowa, the market collapse would have proved him correct.  He was a Maverick until he started doing what the party wanted. And let's face it Bush W had some major mistakes that paralyzed his team.

    Personally I wanted Lieberman as VP, but Mitt or Pawlenty would have been fine.

     No, the GOP needs to rethink what it is compared to how the country has changed. From a technology and social media standpoint, they better get their head out of the sand and listen to some of the young bucks like Cyrus Krohn and David All, David Almacy, and Patrick Ruffini. as well.  I'm sure I'm missing a few. 

    I look forward to the debate. 

  17. Being Daddy's protégé’ does not exactly make George W. a successful businessman… Obama had intellectual and career choices, while the Bush boys only did what the evil trio Rumsfeld/Cheney/Rove had them planned to do…

  18. Yes, President Bush has poor public speaking skills, but to equate that to stupidity is, well, stupid.  P.Bush's public speaking was hard to bear for 8 years, but good grief, it was a hell of a lot better than Gore's mama's boy, white bred, Gomer Pyle like voice or Kerry's whiney, stuck up, nasaly, upper crust accent.

  19. Huh? Bush's career had nothing to do with his dad. His oil ventures and Texas Rangers partnership were purely his own.  Obama's never had a real job, and what the heck are 'intellectual and career choices" ?  High school grads have "career choices."  Obama is a book worm with great speaking skills who lived off his sugar mama of a wife as he climbed the political gravy ladder supplied to him by the Dems who were dying for anyone who had appeal.

  20. Palin has been acutely marginalized by the Dems and many GOPs.   The liberal media went tabloid on her.  As one post said, she was "Quayled."  NPR labeled her the "Queen of NASCAR." The Obama camp was so fearful of her, they sent an entourage of lawyers to Alaska to dig for dirt.  Is it her folksy rhetoric, an intellect deficit, youth, gender, family or the "Katie & Charles interviews" that elicited such vicious attacks from the left?  This person is a threat because of her ideology…Christian conservatism.  It sends most on the left and some on the right into a tailspin.  In the presidential election, 26% of the vote was comprised of Christian evangelicals.  7.8 million of those votes went to Obama.  If that block of voters had voted based on true Biblical standards, the outcome would have been different.  In reality, it was not about McCain, but rather a matter of bringing Palin to national attention.  Had it not been for Palin, McCain would have lost to a landslide. 

    Palin's history and track record in Alaska stands on it's own….>80% approval rating.  Just like Hillary, like her or not, Sarah, who just may be an Esther, is not going away anytime soon.

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