When Sarah Palin stepped off the stage after making her riveting speech at the Republican convention in 2008, almost everyone in America knew a rock star had been born. You’d have to have been on Mars not to get it.
I turned to my wife that evening and said, “The Democrats must destroy this woman.” We all saw that happen in the late 1980s to Dan Quayle, long before most Americans had heard of Saul Alinsky. It’s now politics as usual. The left, aided by a lapdog media, marginalizing popular conservative politicians. Alinsky’s Rule 13: Isolate, Demonize, Polarize.
But also gnawing at the back of my mind that evening was the unspoken suspicion that the Republican establishment wouldn’t be any too happy, either. And, indeed, the paean died quickly in that circle. Michael Steele seemed lukewarm and Newt Gingrich chose his words very carefully when questioned about the governor. And well he should. Palin represented a threat not only to the so-called New Left, but to establishment politics in general. Early on, rumblings were heard in the McCain camp: Palin was difficult, a diva, dumber than a doorknob. And so on.
But what I did not recognize and what I think almost everyone missed was that Palin’s entry onto the national stage represented an entire awakening. I hate soccer, but Palin apparently has to put up with it, so the New York Times and all the other lefty rags picked up on the “soccer mom” theme, and the attempted marginalizing began. Of course Palin was far from your ordinary soccer mom.
But, vicious media attacks and several freshman faux pas not withstanding, Palin survived (much to the chagrin of establishment Republicans everywhere). Not only have the Left and the establishment Right failed to isolate, demonize and polarize Palin, they have made her one of the most recognizable political figures in history. (She raised 1.2 million for her political action committee this quarter alone.)
And what they also failed to see was that it was in the water.
Suddenly Michele Bachmann, who had already been in Congress for two years and was running for reelection in Minnesota, became a national presence. (She has raised about $5.4 million in campaign funds since July.) An comparison would be something like the Rolling Stones rise on the Beatles second wave in 1964, if you’ll accept that analogy. Then it went radioactive.
The almost simultaneous emergence of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement sent the both the New Left and the GOP establishment into marginalization overdrive to sidetrack both Palin and Bachmann. And the media portrayed the women as stupid conservative Christians (everyone knows that Christians are short a brick), and unqualified for much of anything other than baking bread, way up there in Alaska and Minnesota. Just as suddenly personalities like Rush Limbaugh came to their aid. Michael Steele foolishly took on Limbaugh and had his head handed to him.
To be certain, this movement—and I’m not sure it can be accurately be described as the Tea Party movement—is not only about conservative women. Men like Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky are spearheading it as well, but the landscape is rapidly changing in the Republican Party. The leadership of that party still seems to be at a loss to understand that this movement is not simply about winning or losing elections; it is about something Washington seems to have long ago misplaced. It is about principal. And, as has been for more than a century the case with every major movement, women are a powerful force within it.
Kristi Noem, an elk hunting rancher and mother in South Dakota has raised $1.4 million in her election bid against a Democrat thought to be strong. In New Hampshire, Kelli Ayotte, another Palin endorsee, is squeaking ahead of her opponent. We have all heard of Nevada and Sharron Angle’s move on Harry Reid. She should win that race. O’Donnell may not win in Delaware but that will be the national party’s fault, at least in part, for not supporting her. Nikki Haley will be governor of South Carolina. The list is long and it cannot to be taken lightly.
If Sarah Palin rides into the sunset sometime in the next two years—and I sincerely hope she doesn’t—she will leave in her wake and outstanding legacy. It will be largely due to her efforts that historians will forced to acknowledge this as the decade in which conservative women changed the landscape of American politics.
That the Republicans even have a party at this point is in large measure to women like Palin and Bachmann, who have in turn inspired these new candidates, men a women alike. The party leadership is silently afraid of them, as evidenced by Karl Rove and others in the O’Donnell campaign. But they should get used to this; it is the future of the GOP, if there is to be a GOP.