Sarah Palin: America’s Sweetheart No More?

Sarah Palin’s standing with the American public has undergone a stunning reversal of fortune, according to two recent polls.

Just two and a half years ago, Sarah Palin’s star was ascending to the political heavens. A solid 53% of Americans held a favorable opinion of Mrs. Palin, while only 28% had a negative view.

But according to a March 3 Bloomberg News poll, only 28% of Americans now hold a positive view of the former Alaska governor, while a stunning 60% see her in an unfavorable light.

And a March 16 Washington Post-ABC poll found Palin’s negative ratings fell to a nadir of 37% among Republicans and right-leaning independents.

So how do we explain the stunning turnaround of this immensely ambitious political wunderkind?

Following John McCain’s surprise selection of Sarah Palin on August 29, 2008 and her well-received acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, the political unknown from Wasilla notched an impressive favorability rating of 53% (all figures I cite are from the Gallup poll, unless otherwise noted).

But as the campaign lurched toward the November election, stories began to circulate about a simmering discord between the McCain-Palin campaign staffs. “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” complained a top McCain adviser just days before the election. “Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party.”

Following the GOP’s sweeping losses on November 4, Palin’s favorability ratings still registered 48%, a respectable number considering the predictable miscues of the grueling campaign.

Soon shaking off the post-election blues, Palin’s first move was to establish SarahPAC, which would eventually raise $1 million for conservative candidates around the country. Throughout 2009, Palin’s favorability ratings cruised along in the acceptable low to mid 40s range.

Palin’s heralded book Going Rogue came out on November 17. Even though the autobiography would eventually sell over 2 million copies, it also raised questions about the former candidate’s conservative credentials – even her character.

Going Rogue highlights Palin’s endorsement of the controversial Title IX quota program. It reveals her predilection for gender-baiting clichés like “I’ve been living in a man’s world all my life.”

The autobiography even suggests a mean streak. When then-boyfriend Todd told his friends that Sarah didn’t know how to kiss, Palin’s judgment was harsh as it was swift: I “learned a lesson about guys that day: even the good ones can act like jerks.”

As if women never gossip about their mates’ sexual prowess!

Throughout the year Palin appeared at endless Tea Party rallies around the country. On February 6, 2010, Palin keynoted the inaugural Tea Party convention in Nashville, TN, cementing her position as the charismatic leader for the burgeoning movement.

But in mid-2010, the apparently unstoppable train suddenly took a pro-feminist turn.

During a May 15 speech at a Susan B. Anthony conference, Palin unveiled the term “Mama Grizzly,” and invoked the words “feminism” and “feminist” no less than a dozen times. This provoked predictable attacks from the N.O.W. blowhards — and raised conservative eyebrows as well.

Palin’s response was to accuse her critics, including her female detractors, of chauvinism – a stance that began to wear thin in the eyes of many.

The cracks in Mrs. Palin’s formidable reputation began to show themselves in the Gallup poll taken after the November 2 elections. While she garnered a steady 40% favorability rating, for the first time ever her unfavorable numbers spiked to 52%.

Perhaps the decisive turning point, though, was the day that Palin decided to take on Barbara Bush. First Ladies occupy a revered spot in the American iconography, but the tone-deaf Palin apparently didn’t understand this.

When the former First Lady remarked that Palin might prefer to stay in Alaska rather than throw herself into the hurly-burly of national politics, Palin rebuked Mrs. Bush – and her family — as a group of elite “blue bloods.”

Wrong move, Mrs. Palin.

Then came Palin’s “blood libel” gaffe on January 12. And in February, Palin insinuated former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was a “Neanderthal.”

Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald has ridiculed the “feminist strain” of the Mama Grizzlies and notes that Palin “is living up to her most skeptical assessment of her.” But the real reason for her plummeting support is that many Americans are confused about who Sarah Palin is and what she really stands for.

Is Mrs. Palin the tireless spokesperson for a recrudescent Silent Majority? Is she a have-it-all, do-it-all Super Mom? A dazzling, but ephemeral Media Maven?

Or is she an old-school, quota-embracing, male-bashing feminist who also happens to be pro-life? Is she a Shake-and-Bake liberal whose political resumé includes support for the ill-fated Bridge to Nowhere and a record-breaking $6.6 billion state operating budget in 2007?

Until Mrs. Palin takes steps to reconcile these apparent contradictions, these questions will continue to be grist for the political mill.

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