Past Is Prologue: Reformers Need Not Apply

With this cycle's Republican primary race winding down, much of the media attention has shifted to who Mitt Romney will select to be his running mate. 

Some press members are using the opportunity to take shots at Sarah Palin by repeating old memes. Axe-grinders like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace are using the discussion to push their ongoing agenda to escape any accountability for what happened during the 2008 election. All of this is sadly predictable. However, what was not expected were members of the GOP establishment joining in with the anti-Palin chorus.

The GOP establishment's Palin-bashing is intended to pressure Romney to pick someone who they know will play by their rules. By denigrating Palin, claiming she wasn't qualified -- when an honest look at her record clearly states that she was -- they are removing any possibility that a Beltway outsider like her has any chance to be on this year’s ticket.

That certainly wasn't the perception of conservative voters in 2008, many of whom voted for John McCain primarily because Sarah Palin was on the ticket. Polls from the time also show that Palin provided the McCain campaign with a large lead in the polls against Obama after months of being behind. 

Karl Rove attempted to re-write history with even this fact in a recent Wall Street Journal post, claiming, “John McCain's camp felt that while they were ahead after a better-than-expected summer, they needed to shake things up with an out-of-the-box pick. This thinking produced Sarah Palin."

This is easily disproven by reading the polling data from 2008, which indicates that John McCain didn’t take the lead until after he selected Sarah Palin to run on the ticket with him. He was in negative territory during that entire summer. In fact, Schmidt was hired by the McCain campaign during the summer of 2008 precisely because things were not going well. Someone with Rove’s vast knowledge of the American electoral process knows this.

Nonetheless, Costa's NRO article goes on to describe the general feeling within the GOP establishment regarding Sarah Palin and her selection in '08:

GOP strategists are quick to note that Palin’s rise and fall in public opinion was not a singularity but a clarifying moment following other problematic Republican vice-presidential picks from recent decades — from then-first-term Maryland governor Spiro Agnew in 1968 to youthful Indiana senator Dan Quayle in 1988.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking in Washington last week, summed up the emerging consensus among the GOP’s political class. “The single most important criteria has to be the capacity to be president,” Cheney said. “That’s why you pick them. Lots of times in the past that has not been the foremost criteria.”

Cheney did not cite Palin by name, but to many Republican operatives who read or heard the remarks, the message was clear: Romney should pick an anti-Palin. Instead of focusing on geography, gender, and biography during the search, Romney should ignore the “talking heads,” Cheney said, and search for competence, not sizzle.”

Then, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato weighed in, with Costa quoting him as saying:

[Sabato] suspects, however, that this is probably not an "organized conspiracy" against a Palin-type selection but rather a "generals-fighting-the-last-war mentality.”

Maybe Mr. Sabato is merely repeating what he's heard elsewhere, but it is doubtful that all of the others are. There is obviously a concerted effort by some bigwigs in the party to rewrite history and make Palin the scapegoat for their 2008 loss. Now, why would these Republican power players make this move at this juncture? Why would they risk alienating a large base of conservative and Tea Party voters before a big general election?

Stephen K. Bannon was also interviewed by Robert Costa, and may have provided some answers. The article reads:

For his part, Palin ally Stephen K. Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News and director of The Undefeated, a documentary on Palin, is not surprised to see the “permanent political class” coalesce around a group of insider veep choices.

“This is their default position,” he sighs. “They can’t help themselves. Guys like Portman and McDonnell are right out of central casting. Those two, and candidates like them, are company men. They come up through the ranks. They’re not dangerous and innovative. They could easily become members of a country club.”

“The question Mitt Romney has to answer is whether he can win an election against Barack Obama by listening to the people who are just like him,” Bannon says. “To win, you’re going to have to galvanize the grass roots and the Tea Party. I know the establishment doesn’t want to hear it, but it may be the political reality.”

And the fact is, as Bannon noted, the GOP establishment often tears down reformers they do not like and feel uncomfortable around, and that is why Palin was the perfect scapegoat for them after the 2008 election. She is not one of them, she doesn’t hire them, and she has repeatedly informed them that she will never be for sale -- to them or to their cronies.

Sarah Palin's now entirely-vetted record reminds us that this isn't the first time she has been at odds with party leaders. The Alaska GOP learned quickly that she wasn't going to be a good teammate in corruption; she wouldn’t play their games and stuck to her principles instead. In 2003, Palin blew the whistle on fellow GOP Commissioner Randy Ruedrich for his unethical behavior. She was instrumental in tearing down the corruption-plagued GOP machine in her home state:

Mrs. Palin has meanwhile passed an ethics law. She's tightened up oil oversight. She forced the legislature to rewrite the oil tax law. That new law raised taxes on the industry, for which Mrs. Palin is now taking some knocks, but the political background here is crucial.

The GOP machine has crumbled. Attorney General Renkes resigned. Mr. Ruedrich was fined $12,000. Jim Clark—Mr. Murkowski's lead pipeline negotiator—pleaded guilty to conspiring with an oil firm. At least three legislators have been convicted. Sen. Ted Stevens is under indictment for oil entanglements, while Rep. Don Young is under investigation.

Throughout it all, Mrs. Palin has stood for reform.

This made her a target then, and it apparently continues to make her a target today.

The Republican political class is pushing to get an “un-Palin” as the vice president, meaning they do not want someone who is a reformer of the Tea Party mold. Such an “un-Palin” candidate is unlikely to excite the grassroots, but that is okay for a Republican establishment and political operative class that wants someone who won’t question their losing tactics like Palin did in 2008.


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