Odd woman out?

For the second straight day, Sarah Palin is conspicuously absent from a list of featured GOP convention speakers

By Steve Kornacki
Published August 7, 2012 12:41PM (EDT)

This morning brings another wave of Republican convention speaker announcements – and still no mention of a few of the party’s biggest names.

Yesterday, convention organizers put out the names of John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, Nikki Haley, John Kasich, Susana Martinez, Mike Huckabee and Rick Scott as featured speakers at the Tampa convention. Today, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Mary Fallin join that list.

Who’s missing? Well, Chris Christie, for one. But there’s reason to suspect he’ll end up delivering the keynote address, something the Republican National Committee will announce separately. Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman, John Thune and Tim Pawlenty also aren’t on the slate, but they are Mitt Romney’s vice presidential list, so it probably makes sense not to slot them until that issue is resolved. There’s also Ron Paul, who will bring a bunch of pledged delegates (and, perhaps, a bunch more secret delegates) with him to Tampa; but including his son – who is poised to carry the family’s political torch into the future -- will probably satisfy the GOP’s prime-time obligations to the Paul wing.

If there’s a true odd one out here, it may just be Sarah Palin. She won’t be delivering the keynote nor is she on Romney’s V.P. short-list, so there’s no obvious reason to hold back on announcing it now if Republicans plan to include her in their prime-time lineup.

Asked about the Palin issue last night, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that “I think a lot of her and hope she does speak,” a statement that can be taken a couple of ways. Sure, it’s possible that GOP leaders and Palin are engaged in some kind of discussion that will lead to a major speaking role. But there’s a difference between having a speaking role and having a prime-time speaking role, and Priebus didn’t distinguish between the two. His comment could be read as a way of saying, “If she really wants to speak, we can give her a few minutes at some out-of-the-way hour.”

Why the Romney campaign and GOP leaders would want to keep Palin out of the Tampa spotlight is obvious. She was a lightning rod during her 2008 vice presidential bid, and since then her image with non-Republican voters has plummeted. There hasn’t been much polling about her recently, but a PPP survey last summer gave her a ghastly 34-59 percent favorable score among all voters nationally.

Part of the GOP’s strategy to win back the White House is to pretend that the George W. Bush years never happened. This means shunning the most obvious symbols of that era, which explains why Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, won’t be at the convention. Palin didn’t come along until the very end of the Bush era, but she’s become a symbol of the Christian conservative-fueled ideological excesses of the GOP that voters rejected in ’08. Conventions are essentially self-produced party infomercials, and it would make little sense for Republicans to make Palin a big part of theirs.

That said, she remains quite popular within the party, as her track record with Senate primary endorsements this year attests. A poll of Iowa Republicans two weeks ago gave her a 60-26 percent favorable score within the party; presumably, her numbers are similar elsewhere. So it’s hard for Romney and convention-organizers to snub her completely.

What they can do, though, is offer her a deal she almost has to refuse – some kind of token, early evening hours speaking gig that she’d read as an insult to her stature. There’s some precedent for this. In 1996, Bob Dole’s campaign was desperate to keep Pat Buchanan, who’d briefly given him a scare during the primaries, off the prime-time stage in San Diego. So it declared that all of the primary season candidates would be treated the same and offered the chance to appear in a pre-taped video. This was good enough for Morry Taylor and Dick Lugar, but not Buchanan, who announced that he’d boycott the convention and speak to his supporters at a hall across town.

Something similar may be at work here. If Palin really wants to be part of the convention, organizers will probably have to find some way to accommodate her. But they can also deliver a very clear message to her: Really, it’s not necessary.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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