Politico Puffs, Palin Huffs

Buzzy article on ’12 chances has little to say

Late on Halloween night, Politico published an article claiming that after the midterm elections, Republican bigwigs plan to set off on a “a common, if uncoordinated” mission: “Stop Sarah Palin” before she secures her party’s 2012 nomination.

Not much later that night, the former governor and current Fox analyst batted the article back and forth with Fox host Greta Van Susteren, closely associated with Palin since their moose chili days.

“I haven’t read the article yet,” Palin admitted. But that didn’t stop her from serving up some of the anti-lamestream media invective that’s become central to her self-presentation.

“Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei—they’re jokes,” Palin told the viewers at home.

Van Sustren had introduced the article to Palin and her viewers as “a beating of you, a trash piece.” With the tone helpfully set, Palin launched in.

“Having unnamed sources in an article like this is very, very, disappointing, you know,” says Palin.

“You say disappointing, I say horrifying,” prodded Van Susteren.

“This is a joke to have unnamed sources tearing somebody apart limb by limb,” Palin complained.

“The most bizarre thing is that these very people who so bravely wouldn’t name themselves and were instead trashing themselves and the stupid journalists who were had, these are the very people who think they can take on al-Qaeda and national security for the country but were afraid to speak up in a political piece,” said Van Susteren, speaking as if she thought the article’s anonymous sources were Palin’s potential opponents themselves, rather than a gaggle of Republican strategists.

Behind the grievance mongering, the governor and Van Susteren have a slim point: overuse and abuse of anonymous sources can degrade readers’ trust, and makes it so sources can pass on false information without consequence to themselves. But it doesn’t really apply here: if Palin had read the article, she would have seen that it doesn’t go much beyond describing the GOP firmament’s doubts as to her electability.

This time Palin has at least picked a worthy target, though not because of any concerns of anonymity. The article is a pretty vapid exercise, which for the most part packages the obvious as the scandalous, by suggesting that something extraordinary is afoot with so many Republicans working to weaken Palin.

Allen and VandeHei are, all things considered, forthright about who their anonymous sources are, but remarkably un-analytic about what that might mean. They divide them in two categories: “advisers to the main 2012 presidential contenders” and “other veteran Republican operatives.”

If senior party folks unaffiliated with 2012 candidates want to keep Palin from getting the nomination because they think she can’t win, that’s something. And indeed, Allen and VandeHei report that’s some of what’s going on here. But given that Palin’s relative weakness as a candidate has long been a widely held view, and one backed by polling, it’s just a little something.

But what about those advisers to her competitors? It may be worth noting that they too think that she couldn’t win a general election against the president. But the fact that those hired-guns are planning on, after the midterms, figuring out (individually, not collectively, mind you) how to deprive her of growing momentum that could land her the nomination is nothing extraordinary: that’s their job. As Allen and VandeHei put it:

…top advisers for most of the 2012 hopefuls told us the candidates — as well as many establishment figures — are fixated on the topic, especially on how to keep her from running or how to deny her the nomination if she does run.

You see: doing their job. They are advisers to her opponents, and are working to secure the nomination for their own candidates. That task sort of requires that no other candidate, including the sometimes front-running Palin, beats them to it. Lumping in their opposition with opposition from unattached Republicans confuses two very different strains.

Explaining the roots of the opposition to Palin voiced by some of their very-interested-party sources would have taken a lot of the juice out of the thesis. VandeHei and Allen weren’t “had,” as Van Sustren put it. But anyone who thought this article was a big revelation was.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.