My friend Matt Continetti — one of the smartest journalists I know — has written a smart and thoughtful comment for the Wall Street Journal on the long, difficult road ahead for Sarah Palin if she intends to become a serious presidential contender. Though I don’t agree with Matt in every detail, his basic argument, as I understand it, is:
(1) Palin is polarizing and voters consider her underqualified for national office.
(2) She needs to reintroduce herself to the public as a market-friendly populist who reaches out to the center from a solid conservative base.
(3) High unfavorable ratings aren’t insurmountable. She hasn’t reached truly toxic territory yet.
(4) Effective performances in interviews and debates will go a long way towards correcting her perceived deficiencies.
(5) Palin needs to return to the broad position she embraced in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign, which Matt compares to Bob McDonnell’s 2009 approach.
This is where I disagree with Matt — Palin’s 2006 campaign was a highly idiosyncratic insurgent effort founded in no small part on her support for measures that can’t be described as conservative by the standards of the lower 48. And her central accomplishment in office was to pass a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
(6) But again, Matt offers straightforwardly constructive advice: “But she also might spend less time discussing campaign intrigue and Alaska trivia, and more time outlining how to spur job creation through tax reform,” and, he goes on to suggest, emphasize the downsides of the Democratic agenda.
Matt never suggests that Palin will necessarily take these steps. Rather, he is suggesting that she ought to do so if she intends to win. He has aligned himself with reformers like Mitch Daniels who argue that conservative candidates need to present workable, effective solutions to the various problems facing middle class and working class voters in non-ideological, non-polarizing language. Yet the fact that Matt isn’t unremittingly hostile to Palin is reason enough for many readers to reflexively dismiss his arguments.
I find this pretty depressing, albeit pretty predictable. What’s worse is that this contributes to a tit-for-tat culture that is the enemy of thoughtful, reasoned discussion.