Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Newt Gingrich's advice for a Sarah Palin comeback
By JEANNE CUMMINGS | 8/14/09 4:51 AM EDT
If Sarah Palin wants to make a 2012 political comeback, she’ll need three types of speeches, some serious television face time, a credible organization and a bucket load of sheer determination.
Oh, and she might want to get a place outside of Alaska, somewhere in the lower 48.
That’s some of the advice former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered when POLITICO asked him what Palin needs to do to keep her presidential options open.
Since he’s among the few to come close to pulling off what Palin, the ex-governor of Alaska, may ultimately seek to do, Gingrich is uniquely qualified to comment.
The former Georgia congressman has been out of elected office for more than decade, yet he’s a perennial on the Republican Party’s presidential watch lists, and he is regularly consulted by party insiders for strategic and policy advice.
It’s a feat of political levitation that wasn’t achieved by accident or through some natural political order.
In politics, power and influence are fluid assets, won and lost in a perpetual competition between rising newcomers, established players and fading stars.
Operating at the pinnacle of power requires a strategy for getting there and staying there. Gingrich had such a plan — and it’s one that he says could be tweaked to work for Palin, too.
Essentially there are six elements to his approach:
1. Write a book. Palin is already set to do that, which Gingrich applauds. A book, he said, helps a politician lay out his or her philosophy and experiences in their own unhurried words. It also helps score TV time, which in turn helps sell books, he added.
2. Land a regular commentator slot on television. It’s a sure way for an outsider to stay inside the national dialogue and in touch with the incumbents, activists and strategists who can help launch a comeback.
3. Consider getting a condominium in New York or Washington. An East Coast base of operations would ease what could become an onerous travel schedule from Alaska.
4. Write and master three types of speeches. One speech “is to make money,” he said, and should be something smart and entertaining.
The second set of speeches includes what Gingrich calls “high-value” addresses designed to be delivered before major interest groups and universities, enabling Palin to “project her brand.”
The third speech, of course, is a campaign stump speech that she can take on the road in 2010 to help Republican candidates raise money and gain attention.
5. Create some sort of national project or center. This can serve as a base for her political return and an incubator for ideas and action on issues. A National Energy Project, Gingrich said, would be a natural for Palin.
6. Plan on working really, really hard. Many ex-politicians confuse being a celebrity with being a serious political player, Gingrich said. “She can be a personality for a long time,” he said. “But that is very different from becoming a national leader.”
Of course, even if Palin follows such a path, there are no guarantees.
Gingrich has cut a high profile through speeches, books and a campaign-style organization and website that regularly issues updates on his activities and constantly refreshes his list of donors and supporters.
His policy analysis on energy, health care and other issues are respected — although maybe not embraced — by both conservatives and liberals.
Just last week, Gingrich was stopped in a Capitol hallway by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the bipartisan team of senators working on health care reform legislation. “I’ve read everything you’ve got,” said Grassley, clutching Gingrich’s hand.
Despite all that, Gingrich has yet to see the kind of “Draft Newt” movement that could lure him onto the presidential field.
In fact, the last Oval Office aspirant to dust himself off after a national defeat, stay in the game, and go on to win the White House was Ronald Reagan — and that was 30 years ago.
Many have tried to replicate that magic, including Dan Quayle, John Edwards and Jack Kemp, to name a few. But, despite all their promises that they’d be back, they all fell far short of Reagan’s comeback.
Some of them lost because they overestimated their star power, some turned out to lack the requisite skill set, and others failed to build the type of machine that Gingrich describes, a vehicle that can command attention in the wilderness years.
Reagan’s political recovery plan, which was relatively innovative for its time, included regular radio addresses and newspaper columns. The disciplined writing schedule helped Reagan refine his thinking on policy and spread his message between 1976 and the launch of his second presidential campaign in 1979.
Palin, like Reagan, is a galvanizing figure for conservatives. (She also drives liberals crazy, like he did.) And she exhibited plenty of raw political talent last year running beside John McCain on the Republican ticket.
But first and foremost, Gingrich said, Palin “has to be clear in her own head what she wants to do.”
Palin has said she is still mulling her options. Her rambling farewell speech in Alaska seemed to suggest a fair amount of ambivalence about what course she’ll take.
In that speech, Palin cast herself as both a victim of the national media and Hollywood and a fighter tough enough to stay in the political fray and stand up for conservative values.
Her lack of clarity left Alaskans in a muddle, too. A statewide poll conducted after the speech showed a steep drop in her favorability ratings, with 48 percent viewing her negatively and 46 percent viewing her positively.
The negative perception at home is even more pronounced on the national level, which raises one of the biggest hurdles to a Reagan-like comeback for Palin.
Where Reagan used humor to disarm his opponents and win new converts, Palin uses it to eviscerate adversaries, an approach that can intimidate and alienate the unconverted.
Reagan’s good-guy roles from his Hollywood days helped make him a familiar and likable figure, whereas the television parodies of Palin diminished her.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 67 percent of Americans, including 43 percent of Republicans, would not like to see her as president someday.
Still, Gingrich believes she can overcome the caricatures and the poll numbers but that “she has to decide how serious she wants to be about becoming a national leader.”