Accidental Good Fortune? Or Strategic Genius By The Woman Tony Knowles Called ‘Alley Cat Smart’

Guest Submission by "John Smith"

Sarah Palin’s political tactics always have been unconventional. Supporters like me know this, and even we alternate between “aha” moments and total confusion as to what she’s doing. As we’ve watched the GOP primary season evolve, as we’ve watched Bachmann and Perry enter the race and have tried to digest all of the quote “mixed signals” from Palin herself, it is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that she might not run after all. That conclusion would be wrong, for while her tactics may seem and probably are unconventional, her strategy has always been obvious. She’s running, and she probably has been since November 2008.

I suspect that even in 2008, Sarah Palin had a general idea that she’d run for President in 2012 depending on how the next 20 months or so played out. After all, she admitted as much on The Bob & Mark show then as Kelsey recorded here. Well, in terms of how things went in the midterms, the general mood of the country, and President Obama’s performance, things couldn’t have played out any better for her 2012 chances.

Oh, she’s had some high moments and some low moments, but, going into the late spring, everything lined up as well as could be expected for a Palin 1976 style run of her versus the establishment, with all Anyone But Palin (ABP) forces coalescing around Mitt Romney.

Then Michelle Bachmann started looking more and more like she was ready to enter the fray, especially as the bus tour came to a close on June 2. That, in turn, created a difficult dynamic. It would be tough enough to go one on one against Romney with all ABP forces behind Romney. Leaving aside the stalking horse theories, it would have been infinitely more difficult to confront that challenge AND ward off Bachmann’s attack from the right flank at the same time (she may not have seen Bachmann as a threat to eclipse her, but she most assuredly knew the dynamic put Romney in the cat bird’s seat.

That’s when I think Palin called an audible and laid the seeds to bait Rick Perry into the race. This is complete speculation, the type of thing one believes if one thinks Palin, as Tony Knowles once said, is ‘alley cat’ smart . . .

On the bus tour at the beginning of the summer, she twice offered unsolicited praise for Rick Perry, suggesting that he’d make a fine candidate for President. The first mention came early in the tour. The second mention came on the last day of the tour, in an interview with Sean Hannity. What made this interesting is that she never before or since specifically made unsolicited mention of a potential candidate. She knew perfectly well that Perry continued to say that he had no interest in running, and she knew perfectly well that stories were coming out at the same time that Perry did not see a path to the nomination for himself if Palin were in the race.

Then, after June 2, Palin did the strangest thing. She disappeared. She retreated to Alaska. One week later, Newt Gingrich’s entire Iowa campaign team, which included long time Perry campaign people, resigned en masse. The “Perry for President” talk began in earnest.

For the rest of the month, Palin pretty much stayed out of sight. We later heard something about jury duty, even though the jury duty didn’t begin until July 1. In total, Palin wrote very little and said very little over a 70 day period. When she would talk 2012, she’d say she had a fire in the belly but otherwise still was contemplating. To an experienced political pro, I suspect that looked like she was saying “I’d rather be kingmaker for the right person”.

So, the Perry machine got ready for an entry to the race, and it was clear two weeks ago that Perry was in for one simple reason: He saw a GOP race without Palin shaping up like the Texas 2010 primary. On one side, you had the DC establishment person in Romney (not unlike Kay Bailey Hutchinson in Texas). On the other side, you had the nutty purer tea party type in Bachmann (not unlike Debra Medina in Texas). So, the Perry plan would be to run like he did in 2010: Appeal to tea party types, let the purer tea party type implode, and then use a Palin endorsement at the perfect moment to seal the win against the DC establishment opponent.

It’s a really smart plan if Palin is sitting out the race. But, then, about 10 days ago, the damndest thing happened. Palin re-tweeted an article about Perry’s spending and debt record. A week ago, Palin then announced she was restarting the bus tour and would be including a stop at the Iowa state fair. During interviews at the fair, she took a few jabs at Perry, and a few more at Bachmann.

All of this raised an interesting question: If Palin was planning to endorse Perry, then why fire a few shots across his bow? If she’s not going to endorse Perry and we know she won’t endorse Bachmann or Romney, then what’s her game plan? Well, maybe the game plan is that she’s running (that she’s always been running) and holding off the announcement as long as possible.

This, of course, begs two obvious questions: One, if she’s running without declaring, then why abruptly end the bus tour with the “time to take Piper back for school” excuse? Two, why is she holding off the announcement as long as possible? The answer to both questions is the same: As Sun Tzu wrote, “All warfare is based on deception.”

Time for a little more speculation: While Rick Perry has visions of a race that shapes up like the 2010 Texas GOP primary, Sarah Palin sees a race that can shape up like the 2006 Alaska GOP primary if she goes pretty much dark for two more weeks.

Why two more weeks? Michelle Bachmann is under the full glare of the media after her straw poll victory. She’s got Rick Perry employing his 2010 primary playbook. Simply put, Bachmann, already polling worse and bleeding support more than others care to admit, will be in Cain territory in two weeks. At the same time, the Perry versus Romney war has begun and will be in full bloom in two weeks (and, frankly, more likely by this weekend). In two weeks, Bachmann will be pretty much out of it, and Perry will have a slight advantage over Romney, and an expected Palin endorsement of Perry coming to seal the deal, exactly how Perry’s team envisioned things when he entered the race.

There’s just one problem with that theory: I don’t think that’s Palin’s plan. Endorsing Perry is the safe play, perhaps the conventionally smart play. But, then I remember hearing somewhere a politician who doesn’t act like a typical politician note that “a ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not why the ship was built”. I think about how that person is anything but conventional. I think of that person often talking and writing about how she’d rather sleep well than eat well. And, I begin to realize that, whether by design or coincidence, what looks like a plan has come together:

While Rick Perry may have visions of 2010, I suspect that Palin has visions of 2006. Everyone knows the GOP primary was a three way race. You had Murkowski, the serious challenger in Bitney, and Palin, who was seen as an afterthought initially. Murkowski and Bitney exchanged blows. Palin avoided a lot of direct fire. Then came the “Alaskans deserve better” moment in the debate in which everyone realized that Palin had transcended both of them. Think about that. Then envision Palin versus Perry versus Romney. Put another way, imagine the 2010 Texas GOP primary IF Perry hadn’t gotten a Palin endorsement and IF Medina hadn’t imploded. Simply put, it would have been anyone’s game.

If you’re Perry, are you going to attack Palin if she enters the race? No, you don’t. First of all, he needs to focus on Romney. Second, his initial strategy would be to hope Palin fizzles quickly. Third, he’d view Palin as being the kingmaker at some point, even if it were at a brokered convention. Oh, he’d fire some shots across her bow, but it wouldn’t be a full blown attack.

Now, if you’re Romney, you’d like nothing better than to take Palin out immediately. The problem with that is twofold. One, if you take Palin out, you pretty much assure her supporters and her support goes to Perry. Maybe that’s inevitable, but the last thing you want is to be fighting BOTH Perry and Palin at the same time. Two, like Bitney with Murkowski, Perry is seen as the more direct threat to Romney’s base of support. So, even from Romney, Palin would avoid a lot of the direct fire, at least for a time.

Speaking of Bachmann, I suspect that Tim Pawlenty’s departure from the race led to another mini audible. I’m not suggesting that Palin wasn’t going herself to get Piper back to school. But, with Pawlenty in the race, you had a Pawlenty versus Bachmann undercard. Now, you don’t. What to do? Well, why not disappear again and let Bachmann deal with the withering scrutiny and Perry for two weeks?

Think about it: At the end of the month, the GOP primary effectively will be Perry versus Romney. Oh, some people out there will be trying to build up Bachmann still, but she’ll be done because most of her support will be soft (perhaps it always has been soft anyway, but I digress). But, Palin won’t have to bother with her in the same way you had a Pawlenty versus Bachmann undercard. While she’ll have to ignore what I expect to be a lot of instigation from Bachmann, Palin simply will eclipse her in the end.

Then, what briefly had become a two horse race gets transformed back into a three horse race, where she’ll get her chance to transcend the two quote “serious” primary candidates, just like she did in 2006 in Alaska. What once would have been a Palin versus Romney one on one or a Palin versus Romney and Bachmann handicap match could at the end of the month be a three way race in which ABP forces are divided and thus more easily (relatively speaking) conquered IF Palin closes the sale with those primary voters who I suspect in the end will be hers to lose.

Anyway, that’s my epiphany du jour. Maybe there’s nothing to it. Or, maybe Sarah Palin really is “alley cat” smart.

P.S.: If you’re like me, the real fun lies in speculating about when and how Palin will announce. Some people cite Constitution Day, September 17, but I think that’s either too tight or too late in light of some of the current state filing requirements. Personally, I look to the dates of August 25 (the day McCain called her at the fair), August 27 (the day she flew to Arizona), August 29 (the day she was introduced as McCain’s pick), and September 3 (the day of her convention speech). I keep thinking about Palin’s DO OVER reference. Is it really that simple? She said she wouldn’t be a candidate on when she returns to Iowa, so she’ll announce on September 3. Then again, you’re only a candidate officially once paperwork is filed with the FEC (Perry only became an official candidate today). In that case, maybe she submits her resignation to Fox News on August 27 (a Saturday), leaving people to spend the weekend speculating what that means. Then, she makes a surprise announcement at the Alaska state fair in a call to Bob & Mark on August 29 and makes September 3 her first speech as an unofficial candidate. So many options, so many variables . . . it’s what makes trying to foresee what never has been done before fun.

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