Pop quiz: you’re a right-wing commentator looking at a string of polls showing Sarah Palin’s poll numbers sinking to new lows even as the weak field of GOP presidential contenders continues to thin out. But a large chunk of your audience would sooner eat glass than hear Palin’s chances maligned by one of their own. What do you do?
Here’s one answer: claim that Palin is even more powerful outside the White House and that the presidency would be a step down for her.
It’s a line gaining some traction among pundits on the right. Take conservative media guru Andrew Breitbart, who suggested in GQ this month that Palin would be truly unstoppable if she only didn’t get bogged down by, say, being President.
“I think the presidency is beneath her,” Breitbart told GQ. “There’s more power in being Oprah Winfrey than in being Barack Obama. It would be my goal for Palin to become Oprah and be the ultimate kingmaker for twenty-odd years. Oprah anointed Barack Obama.”
Then there’s Ann Coulter, who has offered similar arguments in multiple interviews.
“I think it would be a step down for her,” she said in an MNSBC appearance last month. “It’s like saying Rush Limbaugh should run for President. She’s huge, she has enormous power. She sends out a Twitter on death panels and everyone’s talking about it. I think it would be crazy for her to run for president.”
Coulter offered a similar assessment last year to CBS, saying that Palin “has more influence than a President does.”
As primary season nears and Palin’s poll numbers fail to impress, the temptation may be high for others to offer a similarly gentle push. It’s a deliciously convenient bit of spin that combines the rah-rah enthusiasm of Palin’s core supporters with the cold assessment of the not-smitten-by-Palin George Will.
As David Frum pointed out to TPM in an interview, there is also a heavy layer of irony in that such arguments are the “same rationalization that Palin herself offered for leaving the Alaska governorship early.”
“My choice is to take a stand and affect change, not just hit our head against the wall and watch valuable state time and money, millions of your dollars, go down the drain in this new political environment,” Palin said in 2009, announcing her resignation. “Rather, we know we can affect positive change outside government at this moment in time on another scale and actually make a difference for our priorities - so we will, for Alaskans and for Americans.”
Ed. Note: Readers, TPM could use your help keeping track of whether this emerging line is spreading. Send any examples you see of conservatives arguing Palin is somehow more powerful as a private citizen than as President to email@example.com
Update: TPM reader FG spots another perfect example from the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, who calls Breitbart’s suggestion “the perfect job” for Palin and declares that “culture is where it’s at.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.