I attended CPAC again this past weekend, and there is no question who stole the show: Sarah Palin brought the house down. Her reception was far and above even the Presidential field in attendance of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. I happened to be innocently walking through the lobby of the Marriott Wardsman in Washingtion, DC, where the event took place, and saw a large scrum forming to my front. I wondered what in the world was causing the frenzy, and ever-growing crowd: Sarah Palin, of course. CPAC also included a screening of the political documentary Undefeated, which chronicles her rise to political power in Alaska, her fall from the auspicious heights of America’s most popular governor and the Wonder Woman of the 2008 GOP Convention, and her phoenix-like resurrection during the 2010 mid-term elections and beyond.
I had the opportunity to meet the former Governor, while I was working on the Joe Miller for U.S. Senate campaign in the Last Frontier in 2010, and I have to say I was impressed. I guess I had a mixed view that had been formed, in part, by the media coverage of her during the 2008 Presidential campaign. My takeaway prior to meeting her (and something I’d heard from several others) was she’s right on the issues and has wonderful enthusiasm for the cause, but lacks the gravitas, experience, and depth of knowledge of the issues to effectively govern. What my time in Alaska, as well as seeing her incredible influence in 2010 election cycle, and now all reaffirmed at CPAC is that what she does have is the ability to connect with people and influence them to act. In this noisy age in which we live, that talent/gift is not something I’ve seen since Ronald Reagan occupied the White House.
During her CPAC address, she demonstrated the right combination of raw enthusiasm and righteous indignation that made her 2008 GOP Convention speech so compelling. Addresses before large crowds of conservative voters are clearly her strength. The line she delivered that brought the audience to its feet with the longest sustained applause was, “The Tea Party rose up because Americans woke up…We aren’t red Americans, we’re not blue Americans. We’re Red, White, and Blue and President Obama we’re through with you!” Another potent one-liner, “This government isn’t too big to fail. It’s too big to succeed.” That is the Tea Party encapsulated in a sentence and that is her gift: the ability to articulate what the crowd is thinking, and do it in a way that engenders an emotional response. Of course that emotion gets stirred both ways. A few minutes into the address, a handful of Occupy protestors started sounding off and were quickly drowned out by the crowd, and Sarah with joining in, “USA, USA..” The people then switched to, “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah…” Security escorted the protestors and a gaggle of reporters and photographers right in front of me, and in fact a reporter fell right on my feet.
My other Sarah Palin moment at CPAC was watching the documentary Undefeated, which was like seeing a prequel to my experience on the Joe Miller U.S. Senate campaign in the Great White North. Many of the same actors in the media, government and the Party leadership were still in place. I was given a front row seat to how character assassination works, Alaskan-style. What Palin faced in the months following her return to the 49th state after the 2008 campaign were a series of ethics complaints, which she had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of her family’s money (and they were not wealthy) and hundreds of staff hours defending against. Undefeated relates how the ethics complaints would often make front page news and lead stories on the evening news; and when she was cleared of each complaint, interestingly it never seemed nearly as newsworthy. The accusation is more exciting and titillating than the truth.
We experienced this in spades on the Miller campaign with many media outlets chomping at the bit to force us to deny whatever accusation this or that blog put out. The most astounding incident of all involving the media, was a producer from the Anchorage CBS news affiliate accidentally leaving a voice message on my phone literally plotting how they could manufacture an incident at a Sarah Palin rally for Joe, as well as the need to look for a child molester among Joe’s campaign staff. Palin talked about the incident on Fox News Sunday. By-the-way, the anchor for that affiliate was hired by Lisa Murkowski, Joe’s opponent, as her Communications Director a few months after the election.
I could go on-and-on. The not too former news director and anchor for the Anchorage – Juneau NBC affiliate was a paid media consultant for the Murkowski campaign. That affiliate saw fit to run a “bio piece” 3 days before the election with the brand new false accusation that Joe Miller may have committed “felonious” acts over two-and-a-half years earlier while working as a part-time Fairbanks borough attorney. Interestingly, this new accusation came after Miller had weathered a tremendous storm of negative press about the most manufactured and sensationalized topics one can imagine and he was starting to see a rise again in the polls. Many Alaskans were beginning to see through the dust cloud created by certain members of the press and the political establishment and realize these people were trying to bamboozle them about Miller, who had served his nation and state with distinction, both as an officer in war and as a state and federal magistrate judge in peace. Joe ultimately was not able to overcome these negative forces and came up short by a few percentage points in 2010.
Less than one year after her loss in the 2008 Presidential race, Sarah Palin stepped down as Alaska’s governor amidst the same sort of media/political establishment toxic cocktail. Many seemed to think that was the end of her. Ah, but then came SarahPAC and her incredible success endorsing winning candidates in the 2010 election cycle. Playing off the Tina Fey jab during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Palin quipped during the spring of 2010, “I can see November from my house.” Based on the reception she received at CPAC, I think she can see this November too, and wield just as much influence over its outcome.