While Hinderaker does not respond to my post, he does respond today to a reader letter which made many of the points I made. Hinderaker’s response is a call for realism, that Palin simply does not have a chance based on the recent CNN Poll and other polling showing high unfavorability ratings among Independents:
The purpose of a political party is to win elections. For the Republicans to capture the Presidency in 2012, we need to run the strongest possible candidate. That, quite obviously, is not Sarah Palin. You point out that liberals also attacked Ronald Reagan. That is correct, but their attacks failed because Reagan was not just a great thinker but a great politician. If Reagan had had a 56 percent unfavorability rating among independents, he never would have been elected President, and today he would be an obscure footnote to history. It is precisely because Reagan appealed to independents and Palin does not that Reagan was a good candidate, while Palin would be a bad nominee.
I disagree with the emphasis Hinderaker puts on favorability ratings 22 months out from a general election. I have been unable to find data on Reagan’s favorability ratings almost two years before his first general election, but I would not be surprised to find such ratings to be abysmal.
We have witnessed in more recent times, however, wide swings over short periods of time in the favorability ratings of candidates and approval ratings of Presidents, as to whom everyone seemed to have an opinion set in stone until those opinions changed.
Guess which Republican candidate had the highest favorability ratings in August 2007? Rudy Giuliani, and we saw how that worked out for him. And in September 2007, Hillary Clinton — about whom everyone supposedly had an opinion which would not change — was up 20 points over Barack Obama in presidential preferences among Democrats and up 13 points in favorability rating.
So I don’t put much stock in early favorability ratings, which are poor predictors in and of themselves of future political success. So much can happen during a primary season in which candidates either grow into the role of being presidential material, or they don’t.
That Hinderaker and the media do not view Palin presently as being presidential material (another point made by Hinderaker in his response) does not mean that the electorate will not come to a different conclusion at the time when it counts.
And of course, events beyond a candidate’s control can change everything. In 2012, give us $5 gas, 9%+ unemployment, a nuclear armed Iran, or a “lost” Iraq or Afghanistan, and then tell me about favorability ratings.
So on the meaning of current favorability ratings, I just don’t buy into Hinderaker’s analysis.
But there is an even larger issue which Hinderaker does not address, a question raised by his reader and by me: Why now?
Of all the moments to let loose on Palin, why on the cusp of the media assault over the Tucson shooting, which was not only a media attack on Palin but also on the entire conservative movement?
Remember, while Palin was the focus of media attention because of the phony supposed connection of her electoral map to the shooting, there was a broader media attack on “right-wing vitriol,” conservative talk show hosts, and other Republican politicians such as Michele Bachmann.
Why at such a critical moment in time would one of the most widely read conservative blogs run a headline declaring the candidacy of Palin over?
Hinderaker never addresses that question, which I believe is what upsets people the most.
There is no need for uniformity of opinion, but there also is no need for gratuitous piling on in a manner which empowers those who willingly smear leading Republican figures.
Update: I should add that Hinderaker’s conclusion, that Palin cannot win a general election, may end up being correct, but there is no way to know now based on favorability ratings. The same could be said of every other candidate, each of whom has significant weaknesses which the media will exploit. The point I have made consistently is not that we should anoint a nominee now, but that we should not throw our candidates overboard in reaction to media-driven negatives. Let the primary process work, and do not feed the mainstream media beast with campaign carcasses of our own doing.
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