Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.
I know a professor who can turn to a teaching assistant on the way down to the classroom and ask, "What's today's class about?" and then upon hearing the answer, walk in and give a flawless and fascinating three-hour lecture without notes, and without a hint of hesitation or uncertainty anywhere along the way. Politicians are about the only people who are called upon to speak extemporaneously as often as teachers, and some are better at it than others. But it's important to know how good you are at it, so that when you've agreed to give a speech before a sizeable crowd and a bank of television cameras, you consider beforehand whether it might be a good idea to prepare a speech. Some people, however, don't have the self-awareness to say to themselves, "Maybe I'd better have something written out, or else it could go badly." That self-awareness could be particularly important if you're the kind of person who has to write notes on your hand in order to remember your main talking points.
You or I might have that kind of foresight, but thankfully, Sarah Palin does not. In a short career full of public-speaking train wrecks, her speech Saturday at Steve King's Iowa conservative-o-rama may be the most amazing yet. Behold:
That's just a one-minute excerpt. Here's the whole speech if you've got the time and inclination. The speech is a spectacular, baffling wonderment, a roiling melange of mixed metaphors, non sequiturs, grammatical flights of fancy, and awkward transitions. Click anywhere in there and within 30 seconds you'll hear something that'll make you say, "What the hell did she just say?" For instance, this was a passage I liked (it comes around 22 minutes):
That must be that 800-pound elephant in the room at the White House, that the radical left won't even name, they won't even name the threat to our way of life today. We'll hit it, we'll name it. It is any Muslim who would choose evil, whose loyalty to a death-cult perversion is so darkened and has deceived their soul that they actually think that they're welcome here to transform here? No. What we do, we strengthen our military, we respect our troops, and we let them—our troops as our gatekeepers—we let them tell jihadists, "Uh-uh, this is our house, get the hell out!"
That last bit was met with shouts and applause while a self-satisfied smile crept over Palin's face, as though she was saying to herself, "Yeah—nailed it." But you have to watch it to really get the flavor of how she's constantly teetering on the verge of utter incoherence, casting about desperately to find her way out of each sentence when she's plainly forgotten how she got in.
By the way, the use of the word "transform" there is very intentional—conservatives constantly refer to the fact that in 2008 Barack Obama said he wanted to "transform" America as evidence that his nefarious plan to take America on the road to a socialist nightmare was evident from the beginning. In other words, those evil Muslim terrorists have the same goal as Barack Obama. But then you already knew that.
This weekend, no fewer than eight potential Republican presidential candidates, along with some party media stars like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump, will head to Des Moines for the Iowa Freedom Summit, an event organized by anti-immigrant nincompoop and member of the U.S. House of Representatives Steve King. In my Plum Line Post today, I wondered what might happen if one of those candidates decided to do something unexpected:
What if one of those eight candidates got up at this event and said, “Representative King, I appreciate you inviting me here, but I’m going to have to be honest and tell you that you and people who think like you do are killing this party that we all love. There are some things we can agree on, like the need for a more secure border. But every time we rain contempt down on immigrants, we push away millions of voters that we ought to be reaching out to instead. If we’re ever going to win back the White House, that has to change.”
Would that lose the candidate some votes? You bet. But it would also be an earthquake. The media (who will be at the Freedom Summit in force) would go crazy—there’s nothing they love more than a “maverick” who’s willing to start fights within his or her party. The candidate who said it would lead the news and be on the front page of a hundred newspapers the next day. It would be worth tens of millions of dollars in publicity.
Of course it won't happen. But it would be something if it did.
The fact that fully 24 percent of Republicans say that Clinton's gender makes them less likely to vote for her is pretty striking. Of course, the number of Republicans who were going to vote for Clinton anyway is tiny. Blake has an explanation for why this number would be so large: "When these Republicans hear the name 'Hillary Clinton,' their impulse is to say 'no' in whatever way possible—even if that means saying that her gender is a problem for them. They might never have considered what a female president would actually mean, but they know they don't like Clinton. Hence, 'less likely.'"
Maybe. It's also possible, even probable, that there are a lot of people who do have a problem with Clinton's gender but won't say that to a pollster. That's called "social desirability bias," and it comes up on many kinds of poll questions. They know it's considered inappropriate to say that you won't vote for a woman, even if you probably wouldn't. How many of those are there? There's no way to know.
But sexism is going to be like a driving bass line to this campaign, underneath everything all the time, and occasionally breaking out for a noticeable solo. I've said for a long time that her candidacy is going to bring out some of the ugliest misogyny that you can imagine, just as she always has. It'll come from the conservative media stars like Rush Limbaugh, and from the odd GOP operate or officeholder here and there, and it will work to her advantage by turning moderate women away from the Republican candidate, whether he actually does anything to encourage it or not.
You can bet that Clinton's pollsters are going to test and probe and examine and assess the question of her gender to within an inch of its life. We'll be able to see the results of that research in the way she talks about it, both when she gets asked and when she gets confronted with it in less polite ways. For instance, here's an incident that occurred in January 2008, when a heckler got up and started chanting "Iron my shirt!" at her (he even had a sign saying the same thing), and she was perfectly forthright about what was going on:
So in the past she's never been particularly shy about talking about sexism. But in this campaign I wouldn't be surprised if she pursues a strategy of discussing it gently—not dismissing it, but being careful not to sound like she's complaining, and mentioning it just often enough to keep it salient among women voters. Not that she'll need to wait too long before it comes up.
For the last couple of months, I've been skeptical about whether Marco Rubio is actually going to run for president. The most important reason is that he's up for re-election in 2016, and in Florida you aren't allowed to run for two offices at the same time. (Rand Paul is facing the same problem, but he's hoping he can convince the Kentucky legislature to pass a law that would enable him to do it, just because they like him.) So for Rubio it's a huge risk. If he gives up his seat to run but doesn't get the GOP nomination, his career would take a huge hit. It wouldn't necessarily be over, but he would have suffered a major setback, and getting back on track would require something like becoming Florida governor. And since he's only 43, he has plenty of time. He could run in 2024 if Hillary Clinton wins, or in 2024, or really any time between now and 2040.
But perhaps Rubio has concluded that fortune favors the bold, much as it did an ambitious first-term senator from Illinois eight years ago:
Sen. Marco Rubio has begun taking concrete steps toward launching a presidential bid, asking his top advisors to prepare for a campaign, signing on a leading Republican fundraiser, and planning extensive travel to early-voting states in the coming weeks, ABC News has learned.
"He has told us to proceed as if he is running for president," a senior Rubio advisor tells ABC News.
Leading the effort to raise the $50 million or more he’ll need to run in the Republican primaries will be Anna Rogers, currently the finance director for American Crossroads, the conservative group started by Karl Rove that raised more than $200 million to help elect Republicans over the past two elections.
Rubio is certainly a talented politician, but he's no once-in-a-generation talent. And unlike Obama in 2008, who knew there was really only one person he had to beat, Rubio is facing a huge field with some serious candidates in it (mixed in with a dozen nutballs). He has a better shot than some, but it's still going to be a tough slog.
However, what if the whole idea is for Rubio to be this election's John Edwards? He runs a respectable presidential campaign, being careful not to be too mean to the guy who wins, and then he gets chosen as that person's running mate. After all, he must know that he'd be a terrific VP pick. Youthful, Hispanic, from a key swing state—it's hard to think of a Republican who checks more boxes. So while he may have only a 20 percent chance of getting the nomination, he's probably got a 50 percent chance of being the running mate.
Of course, he doesn't have to run for president in order to be put on the ticket. So maybe he's just bored in the Senate.
"OK, here's how this is going to work. I'm going to do a bunch of stuff that not only will you hate but will also make you look bad, while you whine and complain. But I'm going to do it anyway, because I'm the guy with the big office. Then I'll pass that office off to Hillary Clinton, who as I understand it is really looking forward to kicking your ass around town some more. How's that sound?"
I'm just guessing that's what he said, judging by the grimace on McConnell's face. This photo was actually taken just after the 2014 election, but things haven't changed that much in the intervening two and a half months.