If Sarah Palin wanted to avoid the speculation and attacks that drove her crazy as governor, she should have picked a different time to leave office. She made her surprise announcement on the day before a national holiday—a day reserved for news of impending investigations, affairs, or habits that need treatment.
In a rambling press conference, the Alaska governor never really explained why this day was better than all other days. If she’d waited three days, she would have owned the news cycle. Perhaps she was declaring early independence?
The larger reason for Palin’s early departure was that she was having no fun. Ever since she returned to Alaska from the national stage, being governor has been a chore. Her political opponents have launched 15 ethics charges against her. The state economy has turned sour, and she got into an ugly squabble over federal stimulus funds. It’s much more enjoyable to travel the country waving to adoring crowds of GOP activists.
So Palin decided to chuck her office for the limelight. She can now tour the country as the only superstar in a party that desperately needs one. Because she can pack bleachers, she can raise money. In addition to boosting party morale and filling its coffers (and her own), she can build relationships nationwide that will be crucial if she really is interested in running for national office again.
The downsides for this gambit are obvious. Being governor was the best rebuttal she had to charges that she lacked depth and executive experience. In her news conference, she said the attacks had forced her to leave, but it was her toughness fighting the “old boys network,” as she used to call it, that used to be her primary selling point during the campaign.
Maybe she’s just being mavericky? Perhaps. That’s certainly how she framed her departure. To stay in office as a lame duck would have been to do the predictable thing, she said. But the challenge for Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign and again now is persuading voters that her maverick instinct isn’t just unpredictability and erratic behavior—qualities that can turn maverick-ness into a liability. Only dead fish go with the flow, she said, in what was a welcome addition to the political phrase book. But if you’re not swimming with the current, your options are still tough ones: Either you’re swimming upstream, or you’re flapping around on the dock.
Sarah Palin announces her resignation: