Sarah Palin’s jaw-dropping announcement that she is quitting her job as Alaska governor before finishing even her first term has divided Republican ranks and the wider political community in a very familiar fashion.
Many establishment GOP operatives and political commentators of various stripes were withering, both about the decision and the way she announced it — in a jittery, hyperkinetic news conference that rambled between self-congratulation and bitter accusations at the foes she says are eager to destroy her.
The performance, by these lights, adds credence to the claims of some associates that Palin — burned by the intense scrutiny on her and the crossfire that swirls around her — is so fed up that she's ready to get out of elective politics. Even if it's only the small stage of Alaska politics she hopes to escape, skeptics say Friday’s events also diminished and perhaps even demolished what was left of her viability as a 2012 presidential candidate.
But her defenders believed an unorthodox move, even if risky, has a clear logic and may only further increase her standing with conservatives who don’t care what establishment figures in or out of the GOP think. Leaving the governor’s office at the end of this month leaves her free to travel the country, command large speaking fees, and begin the process of rallying her devotees without pesky home-state opponents criticizing every move.
These varied reactions were an echo of the debates that have followed Palin every step since her nomination as John McCain’s running mate 10 months ago — a surprise that turned out to be just the first of many surprises served up by one of the most colorful and polarizing American political figures in a generation.
At the heart of these conflicting interpretations, say people close to Palin, is a woman who is herself deeply conflicted about her brief past in national politics and how to leverage her sudden fame for the future.
Some of her trusted outside advisers were not informed of her plans to suddenly resign from office until today – they thought she was only to announce she would not run for reelection.
Fred Malek, a longtime Republican fundraiser and Palin ally, played host to the governor and her husband, Todd, less than a month again in Washington and said it was “so clear to me that she was terribly unhappy with the position she was in and the role she was playing.”
He didn’t learn of Palin’s decision until he got a phone call from the governor this morning, when she cited the pressures of a job that had become consumed with FOIA requests and ethics investigations and the demands it taken on her family and national political prospects.
Another prominent GOP source who is close to Palin, who also had no inkling of Palin’s decision to quit until today, said: “Things had piled up pretty steep on her.”
Meg Stapleton, Palin’s Alaska-based spokeswoman, called it “a fighting move.”
But even Stapleton acknowledged that the job Palin said she loved during the press conference had become a drag.
“It’s a liberating feeling. ... She can’t get out of there soon enough,” said Stapleton.
But liberation comes at a potentially steep price. These include brutal reviews from many Republicans, who believe that quitting mid-term in the fashion she did amounts to political suicide.
“There is just no good way to say quitting has made her more qualified to run for higher office,” said veteran GOP pollster Glen Bolger.
Until Friday, after all, Stapleton and others close to Palin had been saying for months that the governor would take an Alaska-first approach and eschew national affairs. The hope was to compile more of a record and develop more policy authority.
“I think Sarah Palin is on the verge of becoming the Miami Vice of American politics: Something a lot of people once thought was cool and then 20 years later look back, shake their heads and just kind of laugh,” quipped Republican media consultant Todd Harris.
Murkowksi Blasts Palin: You Abandoned Our State
Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski issued a surprisingly harsh statement late on Friday, ripping Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to leave office at the end of the month. "I am deeply disappointed that the Governor has decided to abandon the State and her constituents before her term has concluded," Murkowski wrote.
Palin had announced mere months ago that she would help Murkowski raise money for her 2010 Senate race.
And so the question remains: Why did Sarah Palin decide to 'abandon the state'? Is she planning to run for president in 2012, or was this her exit from politics? Was she sick of the personal attacks or was there a devastating new scandal on the horizon?
Or, perhaps the answer is something more immediate and universal: she did it for the money.
With a book due out next spring and the opportunity to make a good amount of money on the speaking circuit, Palin's motivation could have been simply to capitalize financially on her fame.
As Fox News puts it, Palin will have "a variety of potential platforms, from writing books to hitting the public speaking circuit to working directly with the Republican Party to get candidates elected" from which to pursue her goals. And in the process, "the ability to make a lot of money -- far more than the $125,000 or so a year she has earned as governor."
Similarly, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum told Politico that the Palins would likely never have to worry about money again given the Alaska governor's earning power.
"She could make more in two weeks on just speaking fees than in the rest of her time as governor," said Shrum.
According to Politico's Mike Allen, Palin's close friends say that among her immediate plans are "paid speeches, and [she] will spend time writing her book, which is due this fall, then promote it heavily when it comes out in spring 2010."
The advance Palin received for the book, which will be published by HarperCollins and has been described as a tell-all memoir, is not known. The Anchorage Daily News reported in May:
The governor said details will be disclosed as required under Alaska law when her annual financial disclosures are due next March. Her advance from the publisher is likely to be paid in stages, though, and it's not clear if she has to disclose the full amount on that report or only the portion received in 2009, according to the state public offices commission.
At the very least, Time notes, this can only prove to be good publicity for her memoir:
One project that will receive a boost from Sarah Palin's plan to step down as the governor of Alaska is her much-touted autobiography, for which it will provide a hotly anticipated chapter.