Belfast Telegraph

Palin's dream haunted by an all-American girl

The Alaskan 'Moma Grizzly' was the poster child of self-promotion. But now a Right-wing challenger is set to derail her presidential ambitions. Jim Dee reports

Having recently declared that he'll seek a second term, Barack Obama has hit the campaign trail spouting populist, tax-the-rich rhetoric that may offer his only path to re-election.

Meanwhile, Republicans are far from united on the question of who'll oppose him in the fall of 2012. The only sure bet is that Sarah Palin is toast.

Palin can't seem to catch a break these days. Last Saturday, she jetted into Madison, Wisconsin to headline a Tea Party rally supporting Republican governor Scott Walker's crusade to strip the state's public employees of collective bargaining rights.

Unfortunately for the pistol-packin' former beauty queen, hundreds of labour union supporters gatecrashed the event. As they heckled her defence of Walker, Palin sounded unflatteringly shrill while struggling to be heard above the din.

Not exactly the 'presidential-style' news footage she needs to start generating - particularly in light of her steadily-sliding poll numbers.

Less than three years after she became the Grand Old Party's unrivalled queen when John McCain plucked her from relative obscurity to be his running mate in 2008, Palin's star is undeniably waning.

Month by month, new opinion polls deliver unrelentingly bad news. In December, an ABC News/ Washington Post poll found that 59% of likely voters would not vote for her for president.

Another ABC/Washington Post poll last month showed that Palin's negativity rating among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents was higher than any prospective Grand Old Party candidates.

And earlier this month, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Palin's approval rating had hit a new low of 25%. That was the same level George W Bush's had upon leaving office and only 1% above Richard Nixon's record low of 24% on the eve of his resignation over the Watergate scandal.

The NBC/WSJ also placed Palin a distant fifth in a hypothetical match-up with other Republican presidential wannabes. She trailed the likes of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney - and even 'Bad Comb-over King' business tycoon Donald Trump.

In large part, Palin's boomeran- ging popularity arch stems from overexposure.

Having spent the last three years cultivating her slot in the news cycle via incessant Twitter and Facebook commentaries, she's become the poster child of shameless 24/7 self-promotion. Last summer, it emerged that since leaving her $125,000-a-year job as Alaska's governor in 2009 (a post she quit halfway into her first four-year term), Palin has raked in $12m via speaking engagements and TV and book deals.

And the fact that she's so eagerly cashed-in on her fame has left the self-proclaimed 'maverick' looking as opportunistic and self-serving as the political elites she regularly bashes.

Ever since turning in several dismal press interviews during the 2008 campaign, Palin has aggressively cast herself as a persecuted victim of the 'lame-stream media'. Her efforts have resonated with angry conservatives who are sure there is a liberal/media conspiracy to marginalise them as well. These devotees of the Moma-Grizzly-in-Chief fully support Palin's near-blanket refusal to do interviews with any media outlet other than the Right-wing Fox News network.

But many mainstream Republicans have grown increasingly annoyed at Palin's constant playing of the 'victim' card.

Some lambasted Palin for accusing liberals of pursuing 'blood libel' against her after they linked the Alaskan's use of a map with targeting crosshairs over the district of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords - subsequently wounded in an assassination bid in January.

January also saw the emergence of the biggest threat yet to Palin's White House dreams - Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann is unquestionably Palin's worst nightmare. She has the made-for-TV looks of the all-American girl that Palin has and she's also a virtual fountain of the anti-liberal, anti-government rhetoric that the Tea Partiers lap up.

Like Palin and all the likely Republican presidential candidates, Bachmann hasn't formally announced her candidacy. But the widespread speculation that she'll do so within months has already sent many Tea Partiers aflutter.

Palin currently has the edge over the Minnesotan in the polls. But Bachmann's willingness to mix it up in the 'lame-stream media' could change that.

Palin has spent the last three-and-a-half years keeping the press (aside from Fox) at bay. But if she throws her hat into the presidential ring, that strategy won't be sustainable.

Likewise, the tactic of defensively lashing out at probing reporters won't wash. In short, she'll have to learn how to stand the heat of the media kitchen without melting. By contrast, Bachmann has already shown a thicker skin during toe-to-toe dustups with tenacious interviewers on political talk shows. And that feistiness has impressed many Tea Partiers who'd otherwise have flocked to Palin's banner.

However, to the Democrats' delight, Bachmann is also renowned for being a gaffe-prone politician with a penchant for championing whacky conspiracy theories. Top Republican strategists know that she'll never beat Obama.

These same Grand Old Party kingmakers likewise deem Palin 'unelectable' - and they've made it crystal-clear that they'll seek to undermine her as the Republican primary season kicks into gear this summer.

As such, they'll be delighted to watch Palin and Bachmann duke it out over the Republicans' Tea Party vote - and ensure the swift demise of both their presidential bids.

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