Sarah Palin has been called many things in her political career, including a few that shouldn’t be repeated in polite company. “Diplomatic” isn’t one of them.
Yet, there’s a real possibility the former Alaska governor could be joining the diplomatic corps before long: A long-standing rumor that Palin is being considered by President Donald Trump to be the next U.S. ambassador to Canada has gained momentum in recent days.
While the White House hasn’t acknowledged this political scuttlebutt, they haven’t denied it, either. In the fine art of Trumpspeak, which we’re all trying to master without bursting too many blood vessels, this means the rootin’-tootin’ political maverick is in the mix.
With all due respect, I couldn’t think of a worse choice. Originally seen as a fresh, plucky politician with an endearing populist twang, Palin has become the American conservative movement’s definition of an unholy terror.
Let’s revisit some ancient history, as painful as it might be.
Palin’s one gubernatorial term could be described, in large part, as combining political ineptness with economic ineptitude. She fought with legislators, faced investigations, dealt with family issues, and lost control of the political narrative on many occasions. Her popularity plummeted from 93 percent in May 2007 to 56 percent in June 2009 — and her resignation was met with a heavy sigh of relief from many Alaskans.
Then, of course, there was her erratic performance as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election. Many Republicans had hoped her presence on the ticket would counter the excitement that then-senator Barack Obama’s campaign had generated. She appealed to social conservatives, and had some potential to make inroads with young people, independents, and centrist-leaning women. For the first nine days, the strategy seemed to work. Then she opened her mouth, bombed an interview with CBS’s Katie Couric, repeatedly refused to listen to advice from senior GOP strategists, and helped sink the campaign.
McCain was far from the perfect presidential candidate, truth be told. But he likely would have done better with his first choice, former Democratic and independent senator Joseph Lieberman, than with railin’ Palin constantly in his ear.
In short, Palin is a political strategist’s worst nightmare. She doesn’t have a filter, she refuses to listen to advice, she thinks she’s the smartest person in the room, she breaks with her fellow Republicans, and she lacks a solid understanding of history, politics, economics, and just about everything else.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
Palin’s star doesn’t shine anywhere near as brightly as it once did.
In fairness, Trump is more politically astute than Palin and understands how to use the media to his full advantage. And, while he’s denied it on several occasions, anyone who has studied body language will tell you that he looked incredibly uncomfortable during her madcap endorsement speech during the campaign.
What on earth could the president be thinking, then?
If I were to hazard a guess, it would be that Trump is intrigued by Palin’s past popularity with the blue-collar Middle Americans who propelled him to the White House in November. He may want to tap into her old support base of social conservatives and tea partiers. He may like the fact that she, too, has had a string of successful reality-TV shows.
He may also feel that Palin could offer the White House some strategic options. Her pro-pipeline position certainly meshes with his own (she approved, with fanfare, the TransCanada Pipelines project to move natural gas from Alaska to the continental U.S. in 2008), and the geographic closeness of Alaska to Canada could enable her to build ties with rural and western Canadians.
Alas, much of this isn’t true any longer.
Palin’s star doesn’t shine anywhere near as brightly as it once did. She’s been a huge embarrassment to Republicans and conservatives for close to a decade. No rational person would ever associate her populism with diplomacy, either.
Meanwhile, the political and economic damage that Trump could cause to NAFTA, softwood lumber, and the auto sector means the next U.S. ambassador to Canada should be a balanced, thoughtful individual who can smooth over any rough edges. When Canadian comedians are already salivating at the possibility of Hurricane Palin coming to the Great White North, it should raise a few red flags.
Fortunately, there are more acceptable options. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton have both infrequently travelled to Canada. Texas senator Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta. Former Massachusetts governor Scott Brown, who was briefly considered for secretary of Veterans Affairs, is certainly a possibility. Plus, there are Republican advisers and strategists who either supported or worked on various projects with Canada, including the Keystone XL pipeline.
Trump, as we know, is a man who acts on policies and strategies by gut instinct. His gut should be telling him right now that Palin isn’t the right person for the job. After all, you shouldn’t hire someone you know you’ll be tempted to fire down the road.