No one has recently dominated the news more than Sarah Palin, and as an outgrowth of this, I have been invited to appear on a number of television shows and otherwise to comment. So, let me start by clarifying that I am not an advisor and am not in Sarah’s inner circle. However, I do admire her and feel she is filling a need in this country like few other political leaders. And, she is not to be underestimated – people tend to forget that she took down a sitting Governor in her own party and that she had the highest approval rating of any Governor in the country when she was selected as a Vice Presidential candidate. As we are learning, no one can deny her popularity as seen by the crowds of people standing in lines for hours in the cold to catch a glimpse of her on her national book tour. Can you name a single Senator or Governor in either party (maybe besides Arnold) that could draw 5,000 people to a Barnes and Noble in the suburbs right now?
I came to know Sarah and Todd Palin during 2008 in my role as Finance Chair for the McCain campaign. I felt she performed extremely well under some pretty tough circumstances for anyone running with an “R” by their name. Additionally, I believe Sarah Palin was largely responsible for our lead in the polls in early September. Sure, the Couric interview wasn’t her finest performance – as Sarah herself admits publicly, but I’ve been around the block for a long time and its been years since I’ve seen a national candidate burst on the scene and electrify a party and in some cases a nation as she did last Fall.
As the election came to a close, leaks emerged from our campaign unfairly criticizing Sarah, some in a highly personal way. These leaks were not only false but offensive, and lacking in chivalry and loyalty. Most of all, they reflected poorly on the man we all served, John McCain.
John reinforced my instincts to defend and befriend a fine person who was being unfairly attacked when he called me Friday, November 6, to thank me for my role in the campaign. I was at campaign headquarters counseling our able young finance team on finding jobs and asked John to talk to the group. He thanked them but also commented on how much he disliked the criticisms of Sarah making the rounds in the media.
The Sarah Palin of these criticisms did not, and does not, reflect the person I know. I invited her to be my guest at the Alfalfa Club dinner in late January, and to my delight she accepted. Sarah was a total hit at the dinner, and it was gratifying to see the high regard shown to her by many of Washington’s leading lights. Over the coming months, we stayed in touch, and we remained friends. It has been a pleasure telling people about the real Sarah Palin – a first rate Governor; a gracious, genuine and down to earth woman; and a caring and loving mother, wife, and grandmother.
Now to 2012 – will Sarah run? I have no earthly idea. She doesn’t seem to be making any preparations and is focused on the 2010 runs, but it is smart for her to keep her options open. Her charisma and plain speaking conservative and populist approach have great appeal. That said, if this really were a campaign in waiting, I would think her book release would be in November 2010, vs. November 2009, but what do I know about these things? The bottom line is that we as a party have an embarrassment of riches with a number of extremely capable and well-qualified potential candidates. Mitt Romney has excelled in everything he has done from private equity to the Olympics to governing; and he has huge name recognition and a lot of goodwill built up in the party after coming so close to capturing the nomination in 2008. Tim Pawlenty has an extremely effective record as a two term Governor, he has assembled a first rate team for his political action committee, and he has an appealing, fresh faced demeanor. If he decided to make a run, Governor Haley Barbour would be incredibly formidable. His role as party chair in 1993 when Republicans took back the House and Senate, his proven leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and his effectiveness as chair of the Republican Governor’s Association all evidence his capacity. Governor Mitch Daniels could also be a first tier contender should he decide to run and of course former Governor Mike Huckabee would be in a leading position should he give up his successful television career and run for President.
Please note, all of these contenders, including Sarah Palin, are sitting or former Governors. My view is that the executive experience and decision making authority is important preparation for a successful President. The Presidency, after all, is not just about setting tone and true leadership is not proven by delivering a flawless speech or coining a campaign rally cry. Leadership is tough stuff and these are dangerous and troubled times. All of these potential candidates have a proven record of making tough decisions under duress and achieving success in leading their states. Impossible to say who will run, but it’s great to have so many excellent choices.