Sarah Palin's scorched-earth plan for the GOP

The former Republican shooting star bombed in Iowa, but her challenge to the party to move more boldly rightward has some serious allies, Neil Macdonald writes.

Former Alaska governor challenges party to move sharply right

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin speaks during the Freedom Summit last week in Des Moines, Iowa. By most accounts, including Republican ones, it didn't go well. (Associated Press)

Sarah Palin, who now says she's definitely interested in "serving" as president next year, made a speech last weekend at a gathering of Republican White House aspirants in Iowa.

It was somewhat coarser, and certainly more bitter, than her usual bundle of platitudes and jingoism.

At one point she shouted "Screw the left in Hollywood!" And she complained about how even some Republicans are buying into "this unhealthy new obsession … about this subjective income gap that we're supposed to be so obsessed about right now."

She came close to suggesting conservative Republicans rip up their cards and register as independents in order to punish the party leadership, then seemed to abandon the idea.

She referred to the "800-pound elephant in the room of the White House that the radical left won't even name."

That would actually be a rather tiny elephant, but she was happy to name it anyway: "Any Muslim who would choose evil." And then she made a declaration so incoherent it made international news.

"Everyday-Americans are getting taken for a ride … and GOP leaders, by the way: the 'Man' can only ride ya when your back is bent, so strengthen it! Then the Man can't ride ya and Americans won't be taken for a ride."

There was also a lot about the viciousness and stupidity of political reporters.

Naturally, political reporters responded.

So over

Under the headline: "Sarah Palin slips into self-parody," Charles W. Cooke called it "the foreordained culmination of a slow and unseemly descent into farce," suggesting she stay out of the race for the good of her party.

Charles W. Cooke writes for National Review, one of this country's premier conservative publications.

Under another withering headline, "GOP faces its Sarah Palin problem," Byron York interviewed several dismayed audience members: "It was all quite petty," he concluded.

"She proceeded to blow through her time limit with a free-association ramble on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the energy industry, her daughter, Bristol, Margaret Thatcher … and much more. It would be hard to say (Palin) had a theme."

Byron York is one of Washington's more prominent conservative authors. And a Fox News regular.

Craig Robinson, of the Iowa Republican Blog, said Palin made Donald Trump look serious.

Clearly, Sarah Palin and perhaps a handful of vigilante militia members are the only people left who take Sarah Palin seriously. There is now serious talk of excluding her from future Republican nomination events.

But she did at one point in that speech issue an interesting challenge to the Republican hierarchy.

Let us, she said, nominate a presidential candidate who is a clear, unambiguous, social, fiscal and religious conservative, someone with "bold conservative colours, not establishment, pale pastels."

Republican bingo

Now, Palin's version of a real conservative is becoming pretty extreme. She's started referring to the liberal-bashing Fox News Channel as "a quasi, or assumed conservative outlet."

But her basic point is one that some serious Republican players have made, too.

People like Jim DeMint, head of the Heritage Foundation, and Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party hero from Texas, and Kentucky's Senator Rand Paul, another Tea Party hero, have all suggested it's long past time to nominate an uncompromising conservative.

A favourite of Republican donors, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was considering another bid, until he pulled the plug on Friday. (Associated Press)

The party's problem, DeMint and his colleagues on the Republican right have suggested, is not that Americans aren't interested in conservative solutions, it's that conservatives haven't communicated their solutions with sufficient clarity.

If someone could just do that, bingo. The mission of building a truly conservative America could begin.

Testing that theory would of course be every reporter's idea of an epic story.

Consider, say, Hillary Clinton versus a red-meat conservative who wants to shut down the Federal Reserve, the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal Education Department and maybe even the Internal Revenue Service, slash taxes, put God back in the public square, privatize social security, kill Obamacare, bomb the hell out of evil regimes abroad, and stop welfare Tuesday.

I'm all for it. A contest like that, I mean.

Most Republicans, though, aren't.

The two unofficial leaders of the 2016 Republican field — which already contains more than two dozen contenders with some sort of profile or credentials — didn't bother attending the Iowa "freedom summit."

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, both among the most pale of Republican pastels, were presumably too busy competing elsewhere for the support of big-time donors.

Romney, after losing the nomination in 2008 and the election in 2012, repeatedly promised he wouldn't run again.

But then he saw another 2012-style freak show shaping up, and started reading polls suggesting that what Republicans really want is a moderate, establishment candidate, and his nostrils flared at the whiff of possible victory.

A few weeks ago, he started telling donors he wanted to run. Then, on Friday, he told supporters he "believes it's time to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become the next nominee."

Which of course doesn't mean he's not running. Anything short of the Sherman declaration nowadays means you're still in the game.

At the moment, anyway, Romney is the big dog in the polls. And number two is George W. Bush's brother Jeb, whose views on absorbing illegal immigrants (let's get on with it) are abhorrent to the party's far right, but appeal to the huge, growing and coveted Latino demographic.

Also a big contender, at least if investigations into his administration's political shenanigans don't disqualify him, is another relative moderate, the immensely likeable Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Dr. Ben Carson addresses the Republican National Committee luncheon earlier this month in San Diego. The former neurosurgeon and conservative favourite is riding high in some polls as a possible presidential candidate. (Associated Press)

But there's an outlier who's somehow consistently right behind Romney and Bush: Ben Carson, an eminent retired neurosurgeon and author. He is brilliant, black, charismatic, deeply religious and easily conservative enough for Sarah Palin.

He has compared Obamacare to slavery. He has questioned the ethics of people who believe in evolution. He has compared Democrats to Nazis. He's compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and bestiality. He also opposes affirmative action.

A small wrinkle: he opposed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. But that's in the past now, after all, and as Palin puts it, true conservatives have a political war on their hands.

Carson might just be their huckleberry. He seems a lot more popular than other far-right contenders, and he'd certainly settle the question of whether Americans want an unambiguous conservative.

You betcha he would. Let's do this.


  • An earlier version of this story stated Charles W. Cooke writes for The Nation. In fact, Cooke writes for National Review.
    Jan 31, 2015 8:33 AM ET


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