If Palin Runs for President

Twitter and Facebook won't help her in the debates.

It turns out Sarah Palin left the governorship of Alaska for a better position. She's become king—King Midas, to be exact. Everything she touches turns to gold.

Her memoir, Going Rogue, was the best-selling hardcover nonfiction volume of 2009. She's got a TV gig with Fox News that reportedly pays $1 million a year. She commands $100,000 for a speaking appearance.

But it's not all about the money. Palin has also become the fairy godmother of the Republican Party. In the Aug. 31 primaries, all five candidates she tapped with her wand came away victorious—including Joe Miller, who upset incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Those she passed over turned into pumpkins.

"Sarah Palin has special medicine," wrote John Dickerson of the liberal online magazine Slate after the primaries. "The Palin brand now grows ever stronger because other Republicans will want to access that magic."

All that looks like the perfect prelude to something even bigger. After steadfastly refusing invitations for political gatherings in Iowa, site of the first presidential contest in 2012, she's going to Des Moines Sept. 17 for the Republican Party's annual Reagan Day dinner. To run for president, one local GOP official was quoted saying, "she needs to be here—and she's doing that with a big, high-profile event."

If she enters the race, Palin will have the inside track. A recent Gallup poll found that among Republican voters, she's more popular than Abraham Lincoln, with a 76 percent favorable rating—higher than any other potential GOP presidential candidate listed by Gallup. The nomination is starting to look like it's hers for the asking.

But appearances are deceiving. Palin would more likely be one of those outwardly formidable candidates whose campaigns peak on the day they announce. The qualities that have made her a media star threaten to make her a dismal candidate.

It's obvious that Palin would have serious weaknesses in a general election campaign, starting with her raging unpopularity among swing voters. In a new Harris Poll, 47 percent of independents say an endorsement from President Obama would make them less likely to vote for a candidate—but 62 percent would be put off by a Palin blessing.

What is overlooked is that she would have big handicaps in a Republican presidential contest as well. Palin has made her name railing against Obama, congressional Democrats, mosque-builders, the news media, and other conservative targets. In a GOP primary, those positions would make her stand out about like one Cheerio stands out from the others. So other considerations—competence, experience, temperament, judgment, electability—would dominate, not to her advantage.

Instead of making the case that she would be an improvement on Obama, she'd have to explain why she would be preferable to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, among other possible contenders.

It's one thing to Tweet your thoughts about Obama and Nancy Pelosi or endorse candidates on Facebook while hiding from skeptical reporters. It's another to match wits on issues with smart, well-informed, politically savvy conservative opponents who are determined to expose your shortcomings.

If Palin couldn't handle an interview with Katie Couric, how would she handle debates? Those come fast and furious in the primaries—and both Romney and Huckabee can draw on their 2008 experience.

In that kind of setting, winks and one-liners won't take you far. Her opponents will ask her questions she would rather not answer, such as "Why were you for the Bridge to Nowhere until you were against it?" and "If you walked away from the governorship, how can we count on you not to quit the presidency?" They will also display a grasp of substance that Palin doesn't have and shows no interest in acquiring.

This last reality is a clue that those who want her to run will be disappointed. If she were serious about a White House bid, she would have spent the past two years making herself plausible as president. All Palin has done is make herself a major media phenomenon, as well as a wealthy woman.

Right now, she's a hot commodity that has soared in value and seems destined to get even hotter. But the same was once true of housing. Palin is another bubble, which a race for president would soon burst.

This column previously appeared at Reason.com.

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