The two Republicans whose names came up most often on the NR cruise? Sarah Palin and Chris Christie.
In my interactions with only a fraction of the 700+ NR cruisegoers — mostly older, mostly well-off, passionate about politics, and many heavily involved with the tea parties — I found about two-thirds wildly enthusiastic about Sarah Palin; you could hear the gasps when Scott Rasmussen predicted she would not be the 2012 Republican nominee. Most of the remaining one-third said that while they personally liked Palin, they didn’t want to see her run in 2012, or anytime soon. An isolated few didn’t seem to like Palin much at all.
I was struck by how many Palin fans agreed with me that resigning the governorship, while understandable, is a serious misstep for any aspiring president. If you want to govern, it is best to demonstrate that you can govern.
The Palin family has taken over your television, between “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on TLC and Bristol Palin dancing up a storm on “Dancing With the Stars.” You’re also seeing Palin on the cover of People and other non-political magazines. It’s odd to see a Republican begin to master the domination of pop culture that Obama practiced in 2007 and 2008, and this is certainly a way to keep Palin enthusiasts at a fever pitch. But I’m not sure this approach gets her where she wants to go, or at least whether it wins over the folks who aren’t on board with her already. Are the persuadable Palin doubters — separate from the irretractable Palin foes — turned off because they don’t think Palin is a good wife or mother, or capable of having a great time in the Alaskan outdoors? Is it about qualifications and experience and expertise with a variety of issues? Or am I totally off-base, and they’ll be won over by images of Palin encountering the brown bears and climbing the mountain?
Having said all that, it’s easy to picture a half-dozen GOP candidates quitting the race the day after Palin jumps in. She’ll suck most of the oxygen out of the room, almost all of the media attention, the donations, etc. The 2012 Republican presidential primary could quickly shift from a wide-open free-for-all to a one-on-one match between Palin and the anti-Palin.
On the cruise, Ralph Reed — a strikingly smart guy about the nuts and bolts of campaigning — emphasized the importance of money and the importance of organization, not just in Iowa or New Hampshire but in about 30 states or so. We know money won’t be an issue for Palin; when she asks for donations, she’ll dwarf the record hauls of Rob Portman and Marco Rubio and Sharron Angle. And there seem to be enough Palin volunteers to make an army of organizers in most of the key states.
Regarding Chris Christie, my best line was the observation, “People ask me if I support Chris Christie. He’s direct, his mouth gets him in trouble, he knows what he wants and he’s determined to get it, and he looks like he eats too much. Do I support Chris Christie? I am Chris Christie.”
This was shortly after I ripped off my shirt to reveal a Toomsday T-shirt while introducing Senator-elect Pat Toomey.