The Palin-Martyr Effect

Ken AshfordElection 2012Leave a Comment

Steve Benen notes that Palin's abrupt resignation has actually increased her standing a bit among Republicans according to a recent Gallup poll.  Steve writes:

Inexplicably quitting, for less-than-clear reasons, has managed to endear Palin to her party more.

It doesn't strike me as "inexplicable" at all.  Palin resonates with the "Joe Six-packs" who are basically "anti".  Not just anti-left, but also anti-media, anti-government, and anti-elite.  And by "anti-elite", I mean they're not just against the "elite Northwestern liberal establishment" but even against the elites in their own party.

Palin is — in their view — just like them.  An average "real American" who doesn't do wonkish things like understand how government works or anything like that.  Plus, she's a proxy for their woes; she gets attacked and victimized (by the media, supposedly) for being who she is, just like they do albeit on a smaller scale.  She's the victims' martyr.

I mean, Palin's strongest support comes from people who could never be President, but who hold fast to the American dream that "anybody" can become President.  Why, if she can make it, then who can't?

So she taps into something rather compelling in human nature, at least for a segment of the population.  The problem is that the "segment of the population" inspired by Palin is finite.  In fact, Palin may be close to that ceiling right now. 

She can't become president on a platform of martyrdom alone.  To win the GOP nomination, she has to convince people (Republicans and independents, mostly) that she is up to the job of President.  And you can't do that as a soccor mom, because people outside her fan base actually believe — I know this sounds crazy — that the President should actually have superlative skills and education, not just be a regular average person.  Palin's "average real American" shtick actually turns off voters — including Republican voters – who seek, well, excellence from their leaders.

It really has nothing to do with her being a "Washington outsider".  One can be a "Washington outsider" and still comprehend economic principles, issues of diplomacy, and the other tools necessary to qualify (see Perot, Ross).

So Palin's fan base may grow, but only marginally.  Unless she educates herself — "cracks open a Civics 101 book" as someone put it — she'll only win over people who can't distinguish between the Presidency and the winner of American Idol (or, the Presidency and Miss Congeniality, if you want). 

But that would mean abandoning her anti-elite card, and I don't think she intends to do that.  I think she's planning to win the GOP nomination on charm, folksiness, and playing the unseasoned novice thing as a virtue.  It won't work in the long run, no matter what brief spike in the polls may foreshadow.