“Mama Grizzly” Sarah Palin served up red meat at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, lambasting President Obama and the “mainstream media,” sneering at efforts to “rebrand” the Republican Party, and telling political “architects” like Texan Karl Rove to “go back to the Lone Star State and put their name on the ballot.”
The former governor of Alaska and 2008 losing vice presidential candidate may have no prospects of (or interest in) becoming an elected official again; she may no longer have a high-paying sinecure as a Fox News pundit; and she may be too hot to handle, too tea-party threatening for mainstream Republicans looking to break a string of five losses in the last six presidential popular votes.
“Moderation” and “accommodation” – ideas the GOP may need to approach if not adopt on issues like immigration and gay rights – would not be appropriate characteristics to describe Mrs. Palin.
But, boy, can she stir up a crowd – especially if they’ve been holed up in a conference room for nearly three days listening to what may have been inspiring speeches (some of them, anyway) delivered by lesser mortals. Her stand-up shtick killed.
But will it make any difference?
In a piece headlined “Sarah Palin's next act: Candidate or 'Kardashian'?” Politico’s Maggie Haberman asked conservative leaders about Palin’s possible future. Some of their responses:
Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, who backed John McCain’s picking Palin as his running mate in 2008: “There was a ton of potential there, and it’s conceivable that there could be a second act, but it’s a little hard to see it now…. She didn’t run, obviously, in 2012, and she hasn’t really made herself a leader on any particular issue…. Usually you have to do one of those things … otherwise you’re just another pundit.”
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: “Her act as a celebrity is done. Her act as a political figure is possible – if she applies herself.”
Ed Rollins, who managed campaigns for Ronald Reagan and Michele Bachmann: “Her moment in the sun has gone…. Being a talking head was not something that sustained her as a viable candidate…. She’s a personality in the same way the Kardashian family is.”
Matthew Continetti, author of “The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star”: “I think there’s no question her influence has waned.”
But for 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, at least, and preaching to the conservative choir, Palin’s influence showed no sign of waning.
It was mostly one-liners – her forte – not detailed policy pronouncements on the economy or social issues, certainly no soul-searching of today’s Republican state of affairs. Some examples:
“We don’t have leadership coming out of Washington. We have reality television. Except it’s really bad TV, and America tuned out a long time ago.”
On gun sales: “More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Shoulda started with yours.”
On Obama’s reelection: “You won. We get it. Now step away from the teleprompter and do your job.”
“Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama: You lie!” It was an obvious reference to when Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina shouted “You lie” during Obama’s speech on health care to a joint session of Congress in 2009 – a breach of decorum for which Rep. Wilson was formally rebuked by the House of Representatives.
To the Republican establishment: “They talk about rebuilding the party? How about rebuilding the middle class? They talk about rebranding the GOP, instead of restoring the trust of the American people. We're not here to dedicate ourselves to new talking points coming from D.C. We're not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party."
Palin may never run for election again. Her experience in office is neither broad nor deep: Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, (population 8,000), then half-term governor of a state with a population considerably smaller than Fresno County, California.
Alaska does have more bears and wolves than any other state, however, and it’s the mystique attached to such facts that stirs many tea party conservatives deeply dissatisfied with the political status quo – including most of those, apparently, at this weekend’s CPAC convention to whom “Mama Grizzly” Sarah Palin remains a hero.
And they love her provocative appearance. They howled like school boys at her ribald comment about exchanging Christmas gifts with her husband Todd: “He got the rifle and I got the rack.”
CPAC keynoter Ted Cruz – the freshman Republican US senator from Texas – notes that he among other new conservative senators (Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Pat Toomey, Nikki Haley, Deb Fischer, and Jeff Flake) owe their victories at least in part to Palin’s endorsement.
“I would not be in the US Senate today without Sarah Palin,” Sen. Cruz told the crowd in introducing Palin Saturday.
If she continues to get receptions like she did at CPAC, Palin may have another electoral cycle or two in which to work her political magic.