Assessing the Palin Nation

When former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took the stage at the Restoring America Tea Party Rally in Indianola, IA, the crowd that had sat through two and half hours of rain and humidity jumped to their feet and cheered.  The view from your TV could lead you to believe it was just another rally. Being there, however, gives a whole new look into what Palin means to those who love her, and what Palin Nation will do to get her to run, and elected.

Palin's speech, at least the bullet points, was somewhat leaked in the days prior to the event.  She was going to bring a full on assault against crony capitalism, and the "good old boys" network.  This has been a continual theme of Palin.  She broke through that network to get elected in Alaska, and utilized this outsider approach in her introduction to the world stage as the Vice-Presidential nominee of Sen. John McCain in 2008.

She delivered.  On crony capitalism, she explained clearly the perils associated with the disassociation from free markets:

This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare. This is the crony capitalism that destroyed Europe’s economies. It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest – to the little guys.

When Palin posited to the crowd, "...what or who we will replace him (Obama) with...," the crowd erupted.  The chants of "Run, Sarah, Run!" went throughout the grounds.  They cheered in every corner, they cheered from the booths selling every imaginable Palin-esqe tchotchke.  By this time, the crowd had grown.  During the rain - big rains - some of the crowd stayed in their cars, or in the booths at the top of the venue.  While we could see the constant stream of cars coming in from our view on stage, we could not see where they were parked.  But as the moment approached of Palin's speech, the crowd filled in nicely for a rain soaked day.

Many looked to Palin's speech as proof that she is going to announce, or not announce, her run for President.  Those people miss the point.  To understand what is happening, one needs to be on the ground with the people.  You need to look into their eyes, listen to them speak, watch them react.

In Iowa, Palin has more than just love and admiration on her side.  She also has a constituency.  While Rep. Michele Bachmann and Governor Rick Perry both occupy the same space - the fiscal agenda that the Tea Party approves of, along with strong leanings to the social conservative side - that space is not fully explained or understood without Palin.  Never mind any polling that includes Palin now, that is polling of a "maybe" Palin. Those numbers will be far different when people choose on a "candidate" Palin.  And, as Palin said to huge applause and laughs - "Polls are for strippers and cross-country skiers!"

If Palin gets into the race, Bachmann will face huge challenges in Iowa. If Palin gets into the race, Perry will face challenges nationwide.  More than Iowa was represented in Indianola.  People came from California, Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri to name a few states.  They also came from Texas.  While Perry is a three-term governor, his vetting has only come from the Texas press.  People on the ground feel that Palin has already been vetted by America.  For more than three years, she has suffered through the whimsical and the wicked attacks.  She has been called every name, used in every uninspired analogy and, simply, they see her as the stronger candidate.

Peter Singleton, who runs the Iowa chapter of Organize4Palin.com, stated clearly that both Bachmann and Perry are good at delivering rhetoric.   Singleton called Perry's record in Texas, "...not that conservative."  On Bachmann, while praising her willingness to stand up to the Obama Administration, Singleton said, "...(Bachmann) has been big on inspiring rhetoric, but has not been as strong on specific substantive policy proposals..," like Palin has.

In her speech, Palin backed up Singleton's thesis, and came forth with ideas.  She talked about what she - or perhaps someone she approves of? - should do if President.  As Jedediah Bila commented on The Daily Caller:

Most importantly, she offered real  solutions, including a plan that serves as a stark contrast to our president’s  perpetual empty rhetoric: repeal Obamacare, uphold the Tenth Amendment, rein in  overregulation, prioritize significant and legitimate spending cuts, cancel  unused stimulus money, “own up to the debt challenge that is entitlement  reform,” tap into our God-given energy resources and make America “the most  attractive and competitive place to do business” by eliminating all federal  corporate income tax, corporate welfare and loopholes.

After it was over, Palin left the stage to sign autographs.  20 minutes later, she was still signing autographs.  When it looked like she was going to finish, she turned back to sign more books, more t-shirts, more bumper stickers  She didn't stop.  She signed, she smiled, she talked, she listened.  All the while, the crowd pushed towards her, beckoning her, begging her for a few seconds of her time.  At one moment, a young man approached, looking for Palin to sign his t-shirt. After signing the shirt, Palin gave the man a hug.  He then put his hand to his mouth, and began to cry.

It was like watching a Justin Beiber fan win front row seats.  It's a reaction that you do not see at Bachmann rallies, and you will never see at a Perry rally....nor a Romney rally.

Craig Robinson, editor and publisher of The Iowa Republican.com, former political director of the Iowa Republican Party and with whom PJTV worked with to cover the Iowa Straw Poll, wrote this about Palin before the day of the event:

It takes more than just a willing politician to pull off a presidential campaign. Palin has always had the star power and charisma to succeed on the national stage, but that will only take her so far. Palin may have an inner circle that advises her, but what she needs are loyal professionals who will look out for her best interests in everything she is involved with.

To run for president you need people who will put their lives on hold and who will put their candidate’s best interests above their own. Palin doesn’t have anyone in Iowa that fits that bill. That alone is the reason why I’ve never thought she is running for president in 2012.

Robinson also stated that her speech would have to be "perfect" to avoid her "negative stereotype;" a stereotype placed upon her by the mainstream press.  From all accounts, it's clear that Palin gave a speech that clearly articulates a vision for America, her disdain for the status quo and an open question regarding who in the GOP field is really qualified to take on President Obama and lead the nation.  It was a "perfect" speech for the occasion.  But what of Robinson's view that Palin simply doesn't have the Iowa ground game to make a presidential run possible?

The Palin Nation would argue that this isn't a normal election, and this isn't a normal candidate.  That what Robinson argues might be true of traditional politics, but Palin is not traditional.  What draws people, those on the ground, is her folksy appeal.  The idea that Palin is just like them; just a mom, just a wife, just worried about her nation and her children's future.  But, in politics, and her personal life, Palin is in many ways nothing like them.  And politics, for all that it has changed with the Tea Party, still has rules.  Money and organization do matter.  Even more than that is setting the expectation.  In an email, Robinson elaborated on his point:

Her speech, especially the portion where she laid out her platform, makes it hard to believe that she not going to run for president in 2012.  Her ability to connect, motivate, and inspire members of the Tea Party would make her formidable populist candidate.  As we have seen time and time again, the rules of campaigns past don't apply to Sarah Palin, but the calendar and the clock still do.  If Palin jumped into the race rather soon she can probably make up for lost time.

However, with the caucuses just months five months away and the possibility that they make move up to January, every second that Palin waits to announce works against her. Palin doesn't need to do well in Iowa, she needs to win the Iowa caucuses outright.  If she can't win it here, she's probably not going to win anywhere else.  For Palin, the road to the nomination has to include a victory in the Iowa caucuses. It's that simple.

It is anyone's guess as to whether or not Palin announces a run for the presidency.  But it is clear that the decision is all hers.  Yes, she needs to have the fundamentals in place in Iowa, and nationwide, to move forward with a Presidential run.  But, as Robinson and Bila point out, she has made a case - and has politically differentiated herself from the field.  If she should decide, Iowa, and Palin Nation, will follow. They will campaign relentlessly.  They will fundraise constantly.  They will stand in the rain, in the blazing sun, in the bitter cold.  They will make Obama supporters of '08 look like chumps compared to the work they are willing to do.  Palin Nation, from every indication, will not rest until their Grizzly is in the White Den.  It is an authentic intangible that no other candidate, including President Obama, can engage.  And it may make all the difference.