Sarah Palin’s One Nation road trip streamrolled through New York City on Wednesday, boasting all of the makings of political theater … but none of the politics.
Make no mistake: The traveling circus act is more about brand maintenance than it is the first steps in a run for the White House, analysts and consultants tell TheWrap.
By hopscotching across various patriotic landmarks, the former Alaska governor has pushed fellow conservative firebrand Michele Bachmann off the front pages and — temporarily at least — reclaimed her place as the biggest name in Republican politics.
It also has allowed her to gleefully torment her favorite target — reporters — by keeping them in the dark about the details of her visits to Civil War battlegrounds and Revolutionary War touchstones.
If it works, the trip will help burnish Brand Palin at a time when it has more than a few dents in its ultra-conservative facade.
“Basically, she’s firing up her base and letting them know she’s still there,” Bill Schneider, a former CNN political analyst and fellow at the think tank Third Way, told TheWrap.
Schneider and others believe that Palin and her multi-million-dollar industry of personality has not fully recovered from her response to Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting in January. In a lead-footed public statement, Palin accused journalists and pundits of unfairly blaming her for the carnage and said they were manufacturing “a blood libel.”
With its anti-Semitic undertones, the remark prompted mass outrage and seemed to temporarily douse the conservative icon’s spark.
Prior to the Giffords comments, Palin had been seemingly everywhere — launching best-selling books, popping up in the stands of “Dancing With the Stars,” and successfully launching a cable reality series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
Afterwards, save for a few spots of punditry on Fox News, she left the headline-grabbing to Bachmann and Donald Trump.
“She must be doing this with the blessing of Fox News,” John Feehery, a Republican political consultant and president of QGA Communications, told TheWrap. “It’s going to get her better ratings if she remains in the public eye. It gives her more opportunities to sell books, and perhaps it will become some sort of television program.”
Fox News, which pays Palin $1 million a year as a consultant, is the only network with a seat on the bus. A distinction that spouse Todd Palin acknowledged owes to his wife's job at the media company. Anchor Greta Van Susteren has traveled with the Palins and aired exclusive interviews during her show, “On the Record.”
Still, Palin’s tour is heavy on photo ops — there’s Sarah in front of the Statue of Liberty — and short on the sort of chicken dinners with GOP party leaders that presidential candidates need to endure if they’re serious about campaigning. In fact, many local party chiefs are as in the dark about the One Nation tour (next stop: unknown!) as the press corps.
“I have had no contact. I question the value of the ‘theater’ by some candidates,” Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason told Politico.
Beyond ruffling the establishment’s feathers, the tour does little to counter the big strikes against Palin.
In place of grip and grins with party wise men such as Henry Kissinger, Palin met with Trump and his wife, Melania.
Ostensibly, Palin and the “Celebrity Apprentice” star talked about “international trade,” but it was as much about throwing red meat to the Birther crowd, a group Trump briefly riled up into near frenzy.
What the long and winding sightseeing trip does enable Palin to do, is shift the conversation away from her and that aborted first term as governor and toward her favorite target, the vast left-wing conspiracy.
It also plays in nicely with a glowing pro-Palin documentary “The Undefeated” from conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon that is due to hit theaters next month in key primary states.
“She’s an engaging political figure. She does her best when she’s on a message and when she’s on the offensive against the unrelenting attacks on her,” Sal Russo, a chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, told TheWrap.
It also fires up “will-she-or-won’t-she” speculation about Palin’s presidential ambitions, without forcing the former governor to declare her candidacy or form an exploratory committee — two moves that would cause Fox News to end her contract.
In a statement to TheWrap, Fox News executive VP of programming Bill Shine said Palin’s status with the network remains unchanged.
Modulating how long Palin will be able to maintain her flirtation with the White House before finally being forced to walk away from the race or throw her hat in the ring will require an awful lot of finesse. Just don’t expect an announcement at her next pit stop.
“If she wants to keep the buzz going, she’s doing exactly what she needs to do, but the long term arch is completely unclear,” Feehery said.