Palin Might Run, But What Does She Add to the GOP Field?

What Women Really Think
Aug. 22 2011 5:33 PM

Palin Might Run, But What Does She Add to the GOP Field?

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

I make a point of never trying to guess what Sarah Palin is up to, but Karl Rove is a braver soul than me.  George W. Bush’s former adviser says that her appearance at the Tea Party’s upcoming “Restore America” rally will be the occasion for her to announce her candidacy. It’s as good a guess as any, and he’s not the only one making it. She did just make an appearance in Iowa, and that bus tour can’t just be for the sake of sight-seeing.  (Of course, Rove might also just be trying to yank Rick Perry’s chain; it’s hard to tell.)

Such chatter is possible, of course, because the GOP field is so unsettled. (Color me unsurprised—did anyone really think Iowa was going to clarify the situation? ) Just today, the Wall Street Journal bandied about Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Chris Christie as possible candidates.  (Ryan quashed the hopes of many with his announcement today that he won’t run.)

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I can see why Republicans might want Ryan and Christie to run. And I can see why both of them would rather sit this one out. (All of those GOP complaints that Obama didn’t have enough experience would surely come back to haunt were either of them to run.)  I can see why Palin would enjoy the scuttlebutt over whether she’ll run or not. But—and this might just be wishful thinking—I can’t see her actually going through with it. For her more so than almost anyone else in the race, it’s a Game of Thrones-esque “You Win or You Die” situation. Palin’s already lost big once. If she loses here, wouldn’t that be the end of her? And I don’t just mean as a candidate, but as a personality. If she stays out of the race, she can play pundit and kingmaker and keep selling books until the end of time. If she gets in and loses, what then?  Besides, her entry doesn’t really bring anything new to the race, as would Ryan’s and Christie’s. Her supporters would probably also be content to support either Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann were Palin not to enter. I don’t put as much stock as others in the fact that Palin can draw huge crowds.  She drew huge crowds on the ’08 campaign trail, and that didn’t translate to votes.  People might want to hear what she has to say, but that doesn’t mean they want a president who expresses frustration by using the term “doggonit.”

Her supporters like to point out that Palin “doesn’t play by the rules,” and that she is smarter than we give her credit for. Well, if she is indeed smarter than we give her credit for, surely she realizes that her entry into the race will just siphon support for the only two candidates who currently present a challenge to front-runner Mitt Romney.  Is that an outcome that someone who doesn’t play by the rules would want?

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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