August 16, 2022

Week in Review: Sarah Palin and the Politics of Winging It

You betcha it did — as evidenced by the all-terrain coverage that, true to precedent, trailed Sarah Palin wherever she motored last week.

But how dare she disregard the media like that?

That was a subtext of so much of the press grumbling that followed Ms. Palin and her family as they zigzagged through a Northeast itinerary of “biker caravanning” (at a veterans’ motorcycle rally), historic sightseeing (Gettysburg, etc.), office politicking (the headquarters of her employer, Fox News) and Donald Trump (his own category). By “winging it,” or at least not telling journalists where she was headed next and leading them on what some called a “wild goose chase,” Ms. Palin once again showed contempt for a class of people she plainly despises.

“I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media,” Ms. Palin said in an interview aboard her bus with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News.

Ms. Van Susteren’s husband, John Coale, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser who became a Palin friend in 2008, marveled at the media’s nerve. “They have trashed her every which way, and they still expect to be kowtowed to?” he said.

You could argue — as many exasperated bus-chasers argued — that dispensing the most basic of logistical information would not fall under the category of “kowtowing.” Rather, they would say, it would fall somewhere between common courtesy and rudimentary public relations.

But whatever. This is all part of the familiar Palin approach. Call it “The Politics of Doing Whatever the Heck I Want.” There she went again, disrespecting the almighty “process,” playing by her own rules and seeming not to give a flying hoot what anyone thought about it. That included the so-called key Republicans, party insiders and self-important activists whom she also seemed to ignore en route. These are many of the same people who trashed Ms. Palin’s bus tour as ill-conceived and disorganized in (often anonymous) comments to the wild-goose-chasers.

These are many of the same usual suspects who complained that Ms. Palin had breached campaign decorum by showing up in New Hampshire last week on the very day Mitt Romney was formally announcing his presidential campaign there. Never mind that Mr. Romney has essentially been running for president for six years (or since kindergarten). He had designated Thursday as his “announcement day,” and, the decorum police felt, the rest of the field was obliged to stay out of the way in deference to the “unwritten rule” that says Mr. Romney should have the stage to himself on these special occasions. Likewise, the political media was obliged to treat Mr. Romney’s impeccably choreographed non-news event as a news event. And everyone pretty much abided by their designated “unwritten rules;” everyone except Mrs. Palin, for whom “unwritten rules” are just another category of the political orthodoxy to run over like roadkill.

What was most striking about the bus odyssey was the apparent relish Ms. Palin seemed to take in driving reporters nuts. While there have been numerous media-loathing politicians over the years, no possible candidate of Ms. Palin’s wattage has so blatantly blown off (or actively thwarted) the trailing press corps to the degree that she did.

This resulted in some comic spectacles that included Ms. Palin’s using her bus as a decoy at the back entrance of a hotel in Pennsylvania so she could slip out a side entrance; or encountering a Sarah Palin impersonator in Boston and instructing her to “go talk to all these reporters” on her behalf.

Why does Ms. Palin behave this way? The simplest answer is, “because she can.” Despite her scorn for much of the press corps — a scorn not infrequently reciprocated — they covered her anyway. It brings to mind the oft-stated belief that if the press really wanted to punish Ms. Palin, they would ignore her. “What’s the sound of an 18-wheeler when not trailed by a caravan of reporters?” asked Mark Salter, a longtime aide to Senator John McCain and top adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. “The answer is silence.”

Not likely anytime soon, in other words, wherever Ms. Palin turns up next.

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