'Game Change’: Could Sarah Palin portrayal affect the 2012 election?

The HBO movie ‘Game Change’ details the troubles that Sarah Palin went through in 2008 – which could affect the way a VP candidate is chosen and even President Obama’s reelection chances.

Phil Caruso/HBO/AP
Julianne Moore portrays Sarah Palin (l.) and Ed Harris portrays Arizona Sen. John McCain in a scene from 'Game Change,' a film premiering Saturday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

The HBO movie “Game Change,” detailing the private anguish and very public failures in the 2008 GOP presidential campaign, may not change many viewers’ minds about the film’s central character, Sarah Palin. But, say some observers, the two-hour docudrama has the potential to affect both the 2012 election and our larger political culture – from the way a vice-presidential candidate is chosen to President Obama’s reelection chances and the way young women view running for political office.

As is usually the case with media portrayals, particularly with controversial figures such as Ms. Palin, viewers will see the film through their own lenses, says John Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College in California. “To Palin haters, it confirms that she’s a dolt. To Palin supporters, it confirms that Hollywood is biased against Republicans in general, conservative Republicans in particular, and Sarah Palin most of all,” he says via e-mail.

Still, he outlines a way in which the film could have an impact. He writes, “It serves as a reminder of the trouble that Palin encountered in 2008. So when the eventual GOP nominee – probably Mitt Romney – picks his running mate, he’s going to be extra careful to find someone who is fluent in public policy issues.”

If he considers someone with only limited experience, such as Gov. Susana Martinez (R) of New Mexico, or Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, he says, “his team will subject that person to the political version of ‘Jeopardy.’ ”

The devastating grilling over issues like Palin’s wardrobe and verbal gaffes sends a chilling message to the next generation, says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “This absolutely sends the message, ‘Do not run,’ to young women,” she says, adding, “This shows them they will be treated differently.”

The professor says she has noticed a growing reluctance among her female students “to even consider” political involvement. They see many women politicians subjected to a double standard when it comes to family and clothing issues, she says.

A film like “Game Change,” portraying the behind-the-scenes pain the then-governor went through as she moved from the wilds of Alaska into the national spotlight, will only serve to reinforce young women’s doubts and misgivings about participating in the body politic, she adds.

But perhaps the most unexpected potential result of replaying the 2008 campaign is the message it could send to the independent, undecided voter in the current presidential election. This is the group that both Republicans and Democrats most desire to sway as the election nears.

A film like this, detailing the inner workings of the GOP campaign that helped usher Barack Obama into office four years ago, “could serve to remind some voters who cast their ballot for him back then that they made the right decision,” says Republican strategist David Johnson, who worked on Sen. Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign.

“Game Change” reveals, in particular, the doubts that GOP candidate John McCain had during the campaign – not to mention the conflicts and disarray within his ranks over the growing problems ushered in by Palin’s spot on the ticket.

“They may well realize that they made a choice for the safer candidate back then,” says Mr. Johnson, “and in some slight but important way, that could serve to reinforce the idea that continuing with Obama is still the safer choice.”

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