The Magazine

Sarah Palin's Future

Alaska's most valuable resource.

Oct 27, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 07 • By FRED BARNES
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The campaign advisers assigned to prepare Palin for media interviews and the veep debate couldn't have missed this quality. But they simply didn't trust her to perform adequately in those settings. She would need weeks of intense training and study. They were wrong, and at Palin's expense.

In the weeks after the convention, she was limited to two major TV interviews. When she did poorly in one--the Katie Couric interview--Democrats and hostile columnists unloaded, calling her unqualified to be vice president. There was little contrary evidence in the press by which to judge her or defend her.

I asked Palin whether she'd do things differently if she could repeat those weeks. She answered by silently mouthing "yes." When two aides--we were on a McCain-Palin bus with staff and security--said "yes" aloud, she chimed in, "Yes     yes, yes, yes."

The alternative would have been what she's doing now: three or four talk radio shows a day, plus interviews on local TV and cable news, appearances on some national shows such as Saturday Night Live, and chats with local print reporters and a few national political writers.

It should have been obvious she could handle the media. When I spent nearly two hours with Palin last year at the governor's house in Juneau, I was struck by three things. She's very smart, brimming with self-confidence, and not intimidated by the media.

Now, despite her political talent, Palin's future is unclear. If McCain wins the election, that will simplify her political life. She'll be America's first female vice president and the most prominent national leader aside from McCain. And she'll be heir apparent to President McCain.

If McCain loses, she'll still be governor of Alaska. In fact, she'll be the state's most famous governor ever and its first political celebrity. That won't be enough to make her an influential player in national affairs. Palin, by the way, is unsure about her ultimate role in national politics even if McCain wins, but it's bound to be more complicated if he loses.

"I don't know what kind of role the Republican party would want me to play," she told me. "In the past, I have not been one to be considered for anything by the hierarchy of the party. Certainly not in my state. In some sense, I ran against my party."

Palin remains skeptical of Republicans. "I would love to promote the party ideals if we're going to live out the ideals and maybe allow other American voters to understand what the principles of the party are," she says. "We've got to be assured we have enough people in the party who will live out those ideals and it's not just rhetoric. Otherwise, I'd be wasting my time. There are a lot of things I would and should be doing."

There's a model, however, for a small state governor who wants to be a national politician. It's the Bill Clinton model. While he was merely governor of Arkansas, he spoke all over the country, headed a moderate Democratic organization, courted national political reporters, and connected with a group of smart, young political operatives.

Palin could do the same, but not easily. She has young children, no team of political strategists to advise her, and is from a state even more remote than Arkansas. Whether they know it or not, Republicans have a huge stake in Palin. If, after the election, they let her slip into political obscurity, they'll be making a tragic mistake.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.