From Levi to Letterman: Palin's Rough Year

Palin's calendar full of controversial moments

By Mark Murray
|  Monday, Nov 16, 2009  |  Updated 11:45 PM PDT
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From Levi to Letterman: Palin's Rough Year

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Sarah Palin has had more than a few challenges this year.

WASHINGTON - Despite all the money and attention former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s autobiography is expected to draw as it hits bookshelves this week, it’s difficult to think of a national political figure who’s had a rougher year than the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

Consider President Barack Obama with the ups and downs in his first year in office. Or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who's facing a tough re-election bid and the difficult task of getting 60 votes to pass health care through his chamber. And don't forget the leaders of the Republican party who are out of power and have seen the GOP’s poll numbers decline.

But from the moment the 2008 campaign ended until her surprising resignation as Alaska governor in July, Palin has endured political setbacks, suffered through embarrassing revelations, became the subject of ethics complaints (most of which were dismissed), and even feuded with a late-night comedian and the father of her grandchild.

Her calendar has been full of controversial moments:

  • Immediately after the presidential contest was over, McCain campaign officials told reporters about Palin committing apparent acts of insubordination, like her unprecedented (and rejected) request to deliver her own concession speech.
  • In March, Levi Johnston — the father of her grandchild — announced that he and Palin’s daughter, Bristol, had ended their relationship.
  • In April, Palin’s spokeswoman criticized Johnston’s tell-all appearance on the “Tyra Banks Show,” saying: “We’re disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship.”
  • Also in April, the Alaska legislature voted to reject Palin’s pick for state attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross, who had been criticized for calling gays and lesbians “degenerates.”
  • In June, after comedian David Letterman made a crude joke about one of her daughters, Palin fired back calling his comments “sexually perverted,” while her husband Todd said, “Any 'jokes' about raping my 14-year-old are despicable.” Letterman later apologized.
  • Also in the summer, Vanity Fair published a devastating article that recounted her troubles during and after the presidential campaign.

And after all of that, Palin shocked the world in July when she resigned from office — with some 18 months left in her first term.

“A good point guard … drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket,” she said at her resignation announcement. “And she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. And that is what I'm doing.”

Palin’s political freefall
Her resignation, however, didn’t stop the embarrassments or setbacks. In August, the Alaska legislature voted to override her veto of $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds.

This fall, in that attention-grabbing special congressional election in New York, she led the charge of national Republicans endorsing the third-party conservative candidate over the more liberal GOP nominee. But that divide helped a Democrat win the seat.

And Palin’s resignation didn’t stop her political freefall, either. According to last month’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 27 percent of Americans have a positive view of her — down five points from the survey conducted just after her resignation, and down 19 points since she was selected as McCain’s running mate.

The result of all of this?

“Fewer people today see her as a serious political entity going forward,” said one Republican strategist who worked with Palin on the McCain campaign.

The battleground state book tour
But that isn’t going to stop her from selling a lot of books and attracting a lot of media attention. On Monday, she appears on Oprah Winfrey’s show to promote her book, “Going Rogue: An American Life.”

On Tuesday, the book goes on sale. And on Wednesday, she begins a book tour that will take her to 13 cities — 11 of which just happen to be in presidential battleground states (like Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia).

In fact, Palin starts her tour in Michigan, a battleground state the McCain campaign withdrew from the day of Biden-Palin vice presidential debate. Afterward, Palin went, well, rogue and openly questioned the move. “I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try," she said.

Just last week, in a posting she made on her Facebook page announcing her book tour dates, Palin quipped, “Last year, I made a promise to the good people of Michigan that I would be back, and now I’m keeping that promise.”

Can she make a political comeback?
The question is whether Palin’s book tour — and the publicity it will receive — can spark a political comeback after her rough year. If she does have her eyes on the presidency, her defenders say, next week’s rollout will be extremely important.

The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, a Palin supporter, believes that she remains a viable presidential contender. “It’s silly to claim Palin has no chance to win the nomination or the presidency,” he wrote after her resignation in July, citing her standing in early 2012 GOP primary polls and her ability to fire up the Republican base. “She’ll be able to make the case effectively that she should be the nominee, or she won't.”

In a recent e-mail exchange with NBC, Kristol added: “I’d say next month or so is very important for Palin, an unusual instance where a month three years before next election could be an inflection point regarding her chances, either positively or negatively.”

Yet other Republicans are no longer taking Palin as a serious presidential possibility. One party strategist, who requested anonymity to speak freely, says that Palin certainly appeals to the base. “In the right environment, she could be helpful to raise money.”

But the strategist argued that the “‘US Weekly’ atmosphere” surrounding her and her family makes her less viable. “It is hard to take someone that seriously with that kind of drama.”

Ditto the fact that she currently lacks an organization, the strategist said. “Making comments on Facebook is not the serious way to run for office.”

Republican political consultant Mike Murphy, who has been critical of Palin in the past, bluntly says that she won’t be the party’s nominee in 2012.

“She’ll have a muscular career as a political celebrity, and she’ll have a voice,” he said. “I just don’t think that she’s a strong political candidate.”

Murphy adds, “She is polarizing within the GOP and totally unpopular outside the party. And that is not a recipe to get into the White House.”

NBC’s Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News. NBC’s Bobby Cervantes contributed to this article. Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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