What does Palin's future hold?

It's not Election Day yet, but discussions about where the Republican Party goes from here have already been planned; Sarah Palin looms large.

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published October 29, 2008 6:10PM (EDT)

John McCain has spent nearly two years campaigning for the White House, but with the election finally less than a week away, many influential members of the GOP are already beginning to plan for the party's future in a way that suggests he's being written off. One prominent topic of discussion is a possible presidential run by Sarah Palin in 2012.

Both the New York Times and CNN have run pieces in the past two days chronicling the debate among Republicans about Palin's future political prospects. The consensus of both articles is that whether McCain wins or loses, Palin will be a force in the Republican Party for years to come.

The Times piece positions Palin's recent, well-publicized disagreements with the McCain campaign over whether or not to discuss Jeremiah Wright, her clothing debacle, and the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan as signs that she's already thinking past this election and to her long-term political viability. She's also speaking more frequently with the press and reading up on foreign policy in an effort to bolster her understanding of crucial issues.

The CNN article devotes greater attention to the internal ideological struggle within the conservative movement that a possible Palin presidential bid would only exacerbate. While prominent conservatives like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and David Frum acknowledge that Palin's homey rhetoric and conservative Christianity appeal to the GOP base, they say that she hurts Republicans' chances in general elections because she turns off crucial swing voters.

When one looks at Palin's favorability ratings, Noonan, Brooks and Frum seem to have a point. A recent Newsweek poll found that Palin is the only major candidate on the presidential ballots that has an overall negative rating with voters. The poll also indicates that she has hurt McCain with independents -- 34 percent said that Palin has made them less likely to vote for McCain. The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll also found that a majority of likely voters view her unfavorably and doubt she is qualified to be president.

The Times article quotes Matthew Dowd, a former strategist for George W. Bush, as saying: "She's an attractive woman who can give a great speech, but the American public doesn't view her much beyond that ... She's vastly unpopular among moderate and independent voters, and while she could be in a position to be popular among an increasingly smaller Republican Party, she's got to figure out a way to extend that and figure out a way to strengthen her weaknesses."

Still, Palin seems likely to play a large role in the conservative movement's plans for its future. Today, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports on a secret strategy meeting scheduled to take place after the election. Regardless of what happens Tuesday at the polls, Martin writes, "Sarah Palin will be a central part of discussion" at the strategy session.

But if McCain loses, to remain on the national scene Palin will first have to focus on holding on to Alaska. A McClatchy article notes that Palin's vice-presidential campaign has caused her approval ratings to slip in her home state. She still has a 68 percent approval rating, but that's down from 82 percent earlier in the year.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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2008 Elections Republican Party Sarah Palin War Room