Sarah’s Critics Are Reading Her, and History, Wrong.

| July 6, 2009 | 12 Replies

The big story today is still Sarah Palin’s resignation. I wrote about it late last night at NTC News and, really, that piece says about all I think I can say with any authority. I think we know right now all we can know about why Palin decided to resign and what she plans to do from here on out.

That won’t satisfy most of the commentariat, but it should be pretty obvious that they’re not going to be satisfied no matter what she says. That’s more or less the point Stacy makes in his piece at the American Spectator. His bigger point, which should be obvious but apparently is not, is that Sarah Palin will pick her own path, not the one dictated to her by the GOP establishment and career advisers. Francis Cianfrocca has taken the establishment position but his reasons are all the same conventional wisdom reasons. Here’s what they forget: Palin has always taken the unconventional road to success. Why on Earth would she suddenly decide to listen to the same Republican machine that led her into disastrously hostile interviews with Katie Couric and and Charlie Gibson right out of the box, months of backstabbing by self-aggrandizing campaign hacks, and a cowardly silence from the man who picked her in the first place? For that matter, why should she give herself over to the press who have spent months savaging her for sins real and mostly imagined? On that subject, by the way, you should definitely read Melissa Clouthier’s post, which is a masterpiece.

That leads me to Fred Barnes’ column at The Weekly Standard, which is calm, reasoned, and completely misses the point. He describes the “three legs” of a successful Republican candidate as charisma, experience, and “enough knowledge of foreign and domestic issues to talk about them persuasively”.

That is, of course, the conventional wisdom. However, what Barnes doesn’t say is that the legs are not equal when it comes to a successful President. For at least the last 30 years, the charisma leg has been far more important. That’s evident from his roster of Republican candidates. He starts with Reagan, who I think we almost have to throw out as a once-in-a-lifetime candidate. He is to Republicans what Bill Clinton is to Democrats (and Clinton was pretty weak on foreign and domestic issues when he ran as well). Beyond that, what did Republicans have?

Other Republican nominees weren’t as towering as Reagan, but they met the three-leg test. Thomas Dewey, in 1948, had been governor of New York. Dwight Eisenhower? His credentials were obvious. Richard Nixon had six years in Congress and eight as vice president before he was nominated in 1960 and again in 1968 and, after fours years in the White House, in 1972.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate. A senator for 12 years, he was leader of the nascent conservative movement and author of a widely read book, The Conscience of a Conservative. In 1976, Gerald Ford had been president for two years when he won the Republican nomination.

Then we got Reagan for two cycles, followed by George H.W. Bush, bubbling with experience (House, United Nations, China, veep) when he was the nominee in 1988 and 1992. Next was Bob Dole, with decades in Congress, in 1996, and George W. Bush, governor of Texas for six years, in 2000 and 2004. Finally, there was John McCain, with nearly 30 years of duty in Washington, in 2008.

Let’s look at those names for a second, compared to their opponents.

Dewey lost to Harry Truman.
Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson twice.
Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy.
Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson.
Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.
Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Behind each loser you can also tack the word “boring” (or “uncharismatic”, if you’re feeling kind). Sure, sometimes experience mattered, but sometimes it didn’t. Was Carter more experienced or knowledgeable than Ford? Kennedy more than Nixon?

Like I said, I’ll skip over Reagan because he was, in nearly every way I can tell, a perfect political juggernaut. If the Ronald Reagan of 1980 were running against the Barack Obama of 2008, we’d be talking about President Reagan today. But what about those other candidates?

George H.W. Bush had the great fortune of running against someone with even less charisma and ability to connect with the common man, Michael Dukakis. He got trounced by Bill Clinton four years later, even after the amazing success of the Iraq War.

Then we got Bob Dole against Bill Clinton. How did experience and knowledge help then? How did it help Al Gore, who had lived and breathed politics his entire life against George W. Bush?

You get the idea. When it comes to a Presidential election, charisma is by far the most important of the “three legs”. Knowledge can be gotten relatively quickly. Heck Sarah Palin could start getting up to speed on everything she needed to know in 2011 and know enough to win in 2012.

Barnes aimed at the wrong target entirely. Instead of counting out Palin because of her perceived shortcomings, he should have been targeting the Republican Party establishment for running so many boring nominees. The GOP has been very lucky since Ronald Reagan but, as Barack Obama proved, luck only lasts until the other guys find your weak point. The simple truth is that people don’t want experience and know-how nearly as much as they want someone who inspires them and demonstrates enough charisma to catch and hold people’s attention. Sarah Palin does both of those things, which is why I think it’s extremely foolish for conservative pundits and the Republican Party to slam the door on her now. J.R.Dunn comes to the same conclusion, except that he doesn’t see the GOP getting the point until after 2012. He thinks Sarah could very well be ready by then, but the party will not be even close to ready for her.

Of course, it could also be that I like her so much because she drives the left batspit insane. It would help if some of our friends on the right weren’t quite to eager to be Helpy Helpersons.

UPDATE: Linked by Conservative Grapevine (thanks to the awesome Wendy Sullivan!)

I’ll have a reply for Smitty later today. He makes good points and is no Helpy Helperson but I think he’s overshot the problem inside the GOP.

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