February 25, 2009

Planetary Politics And Sarah Palin's Future

Nate Silver, though not a conservative himself, does seem to have a fairly clear eye about politics. He has created a very interesting way of indexing the potential contenders for the GOP's 2012 nomination, by graphing in two dimensions the social conservatism of the politician with the politician's credential as an "outsider" versus a "populist." Shamelessly hotlinked, the chart looks more or less right to me:

I'm pretty sure the "Bush" in the diagram is Jeb Bush, not either of the former Presidents.

Now, to some extent I think that the chart is limited in scope by virtue of the fact that there aren't that many contenders out there now, so Silver relied on several names from the 2008 race. He suggests that there is a reasonable possibility that Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson may be in the mix in three years; I kind of doubt that myself. I also have a real hard time seeing Kay Bailey Hutchison in the mix, either.

But for the most part, I think this is right. It is right both in execution and more importantly in concept. It's not enough to index candidates on their degree of social conservatism, because there are other dimensions by which Republicans distinguish themselves. A figure like Mitt Romney gains appeal by promising competent, effective government; a Mike Huckabee gains appeal by promising to "shake things up" in Washington. These are fundamentally polarized kinds of appeals and both parties have candidates from up and down that spectrum.

There are other dimensions worth examining as well, such as economic policy; however, at this time, it would seem that the Republicans have lost their way on this issue, since they still lack credibility as budget hawks and haven't come up with all that many ideas for addressing our present economic woes. And they're all going to be advocates of beefier national defense than will be in place come 2012, so in that sense they'll be indistinguishable from one another also.

So the big lesson here is that in terms of populist/outsider appeal and strong social conservatism, Sarah Palin appears to have cornered the market. Unless someone on the right side of the spectrum makes a convincing populist play, that quadrant of the field would be Palin's for the taking. If she wants it, which it's becoming clear to me that she does.

So it looks like my earlier obituary on her political future may have been in error.

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