Sarah Palin's Big Tease

Her book and cable show keep interest and dollars swelling. That’s all she wants. For now.

Is Sarah Palin for real? That’s exactly the question the former governor/vice presidential nominee and ultratalented political media queen, best-selling author and talk of the Tea Party wants to be asked, repeatedly.

The answer is not important. At least, not right away. That would spoil the fun, perhaps even dampen book sales and television ratings, and bring in less money.

With release of her second, largely ghostwritten book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, and the rollout of her cable TV reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Palin is in the midst of a double-platinum-level tease with America.It’s been set up masterfully -- the kind of long-term flirtation that, if done well, monopolizes attention and public fascination, from both supporters and detractors.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Palin can, and will, talk in spurts from a glitzy comfort zone as the political world ponders her potential 2012 presidential run. No major media interviews. No serious inquiries to her about the specifics and merits of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia or on how to quell the firestorm in the Koreas, respond to the debt commission report or prevent another financial collapse. That’s hardball stuff, and she doesn’t need to do it.

Instead, she’ll use carefully chosen interviews to talk about the bright, universally embraced, all-American themes of her book: freedom, faith, the founding fathers, the honor of military service, and the promise of American vision, business ingenuity and diversity. She’ll toss in a line or two from Abigail Adams and Alexis de Tocqueville, who both get a nod in her book.

She’s also setting up a “pre-campaign-in-waiting” organization in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucuses in 2012. It costs peanuts and doesn’t require a commitment. But it keeps the tease alive.

Book forums for this largely platitudinous, hip-hip-hooray, nonscholarly book are not a platform for a run, but they set the table for a potential run, another part of a carefully choreographed tease. But if enough millions of Palin supporters say it is a platform, then it becomes almost platform-like.

Meanwhile, other potential contenders for the GOP presidential nomination -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, retiring Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others -- can only wait, watch and worry until Palin decides.

The talk of a Palin run will overtake discussions about her political record, including her short stint as governor and her endorsement record in the midterm elections. She backed a few big-name winners, including Sens.-elect Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as a number who lost in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire and, it appears, her home state of Alaska. As political time marches on, though, less will be spoken of the losing candidates. They’ll be old news next year, when the focus will be on what Republicans will do to try to win back the White House and expand their ranks in Congress.

The major plot line in that discussion will be whom the GOP will choose to run against President Obama. And the key question will involve Palin: Will she run?

She’ll keep the nation waiting, making her decision late in the spring or summer of next year, long after others have stepped in with less money -- and much less national fascination.In the end, I expect she will decide not to run. While she’ll let down legions of supporters by saying no, she’ll benefit personally, and she’ll keep up the tease through her TV show, topping the A-list of highly paid speakers and, of course, continuing to avoid the mainstream media.

That said, here’s a possibility to ponder. Not running for president will allow Palin to continue to charm millions and stay in the media spotlight without offering tough policy specifics. It could once again make her a prime candidate for the Republican nomination for vice president.

After three years of sustained support in many corners of the country, she may be given a warmer welcome on the national stage as a VP candidate. She may be more studied and ready to offer and debate specifics about where the country is, where it should be headed, and why she thinks Republicans offer a better course for getting there than Obama and Vice President Biden.

For the next 15 months, perhaps longer, Palin might as well have the political world on a string, sitting on a rainbow that others can’t seem to touch, but that we all see and ponder.

Richard Sammon
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter