Fox News host Bill O'Reilly told his viewers that his guest Tuesday night will be "the most charismatic politician in the country right now, with the possible exception of President Obama."
What exactly is Sarah Palin – a future presidential candidate or a future pundit? Her new job as a Fox News contributor , which starts tonight, gives her the option, and also sets up the possibility of her attempting a unique path to the Republican presidential nomination.
If Palin does have her sights on 2012, it could be based on trying to side-step the traditional ways of communicating for a presidential hopeful. She can skip "Meet the Press" and pass up an interview with the New York Times and other mainstream media while remaining in the spotlight with regular appearances on Fox News, and communicating with her supporters by way of Facebook and Twitter.
It's a media strategy that allows a certain measure of control, too, considering that political reporters and cable news hosts will cover any Facebook note or 140-character-or-less message while not getting the opportunity ask a follow-up. In addition, her best-selling memoir, "Going Rogue," and 30-city tour, helps put the best spin on the last time she ran for office.
"It's a strategically very smart approach to be using every available platform," said Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of TechPresident.com. "And now she's adding to her arsenal [with] television. She has the ability of exponentially accelerating her social network audience because of the bully pulpit of TV."
Palin's non-traditional platform choices could be well-suited to appealing to the Tea Party movement, the decentralized groundswell that exploded onto the scene last year in opposition to big-spending initiatives pushed by the Obama administration and its allies in the Democratic Congress. Fox News heavily promoted tea party events last April, with top hosts heading to rallies in different parts of the country.
But it's not without risks, such as on-air gaffes or becoming too closely aligned with a network boasting right-wing stars like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. But friends of Palin say that joining Fox is a win-win for her and the network.
John Coale, a some-time adviser and husband of Fox host Greta Van Susteren, said it's "a great move" and one that gives her another platform in addition to what she's doing online.
"Fans of Fox, a lot of them, are Sarah fans," Coale said.
As part of a multi-year deal, Palin will be spread across several Rupert Murdoch-owned entities, according to the release. She'll offer political commentary and analysis on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FoxNews.com, and could be included in special events on Fox broadcasting network, along with hosting some episodes of the Fox News' "Real American Stories."
Coale said that appearing as a pundit, like Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich, as opposed to having a show like Mike Huckabee, another once and future candidate, still allows Palin a certain amount of freedom and the ability to participate on-camera from Alaska. "I don't think she would want a show at this point," he added.
"It's good to have her join us and I feel sure she will enjoy a great working atmosphere and a wonderful team of people," Huckabee told POLITICO, through a spokesperson. Rove and Gingrich were not available to comment on their new Fox colleague, but Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, one of Palin's original boosters, was enthusiastic.
"It's great," said Kristol, a regular fixture on the network. "She'll be a terrific addition to the Fox News Sunday panel!"
Fred Malek, another Palin friend, who served as national finance chairman for the McCain campaign, also praised the move and said he doesn't know whether or not it's part any of "grand strategy" to run for office again.
"I think she feels she has something to say and connects in a meaningful way with part of our population," Malek said, adding that these days, he believes Palin is "doing pretty darn well speaking on a variety of issues in all kinds of venues."
But while speaking with adoring supporters on line at a Barnes & Noble isn't likely to get her off message, Palin's performance on television during the presidential campaign was problematic. In a series of rocky interviews with Katie Couric, Palin didn't exhibit a firm grasp of domestic and international issues, leading to stinging criticism and parody on "Saturday Night Live."
In "Game Change," the much-talked-about new book on the 2008 race, the authors report how in preparation for the interviews, Palin was tripped up on the difference between North and South Korea or what the Federal Reserve actually does.
And what Palin says on Fox News won't stay on Fox News. Any interesting or off-message remarks will quickly wind up on YouTube, Twitter, and competing cable networks. On Monday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked on his show "how can [Palin] be a pundit, she doesn't know anything." Clearly, detractors in the media world will be ready and waiting for the moment she mixes up any countries or continents.
David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter who founded the conservative website FrumForum.com, said that appearing on cable news could be dangerous for any would-be candidate since "it increases opportunities for making mistakes."
"Every time you appear, you're taking a risk," Frum said.
But, as Rasiej points out, "She's not signing a contract with NBC or CBS or CNN." He added that Fox is "a safe environment for her where she doesn't have to worry about being taken out of context or misrepresented."
Yet appearing solely on a network that's known for conservative commentators "traps her in a dangerous, closed feedback loop," Frum said, and if "she does decide to be a viable candidate, she needs to reach outside that Fox News audience."
Though the legions of newly engaged tea party activists who attended town halls and marches across the country last year represent a potentially potent source of energy for the Republican Party, they've lashed out at Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative and largely spurned entreaties to join traditional GOP groups and e-mail lists.
Palin has been a tea party darling, and now seems to be making a concerted play to be the movement's primary leader. Last week, she reaffirmed her intent to deliver the keynote address at next month's first-ever National Tea Party Convention, even as she rejected an invitation to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, traditionally seen as the year's must-attend event for the conservative establishment.
She's also been working quietly to build her own email list through her political action committee, SarahPAC, which has mostly refrained from sending aggressive fundraising appeals to its list, considered something of a taboo among tea partiers. The tea party contingent has organized on their own, using Facebook, Twitter, and even Fox News to mobilize--all platforms where Palin will also be using.
Rasiej said that the cable news role and personal online outreach via social network sites could go hand-in-hand. "When she's on television, she can say follow me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter," Rasiej said. "Television will accelerate her platform of social media."
Still, it would be a leap for a presidential candidate to completely bypass the mainstream media while still hoping to win over a majority of the country rather than just the a highly-partisan constituency. But the last presidential election showed that there are possibilities of communicating with potential voters that didn't exist just four years earlier.
"As Barack Obama showed us in the 2008 campaign," Rasiej said, "he was able to control his message much more succinctly, or effectively, by removing the filter and going direct."
I can't help but find Sarah Palin completely ridiculous. That's just my opinion though. I do know that I am super excited for TDS to cover this.