When Reality TV Stars Pretend to Run for President

In a fine example of state of the art thinking circa 1980, Peter Beinart today explains in The Daily Beast why this is Sarah Palin should seize this moment to run for president.

“There will be never be a better moment,” he writes. “A conventional politician might bide his or her time, amass a record of solid governance, and wait for 2016, when there won’t be an incumbent on the ticket. But Palin doesn’t want to govern, at least not at the state level, as evidenced by her decision to leave the Alaska governorship. So she’d enter the 2016 race with no better qualifications than she has now, and probably face a stronger primary field. Worse, she’d be old news. What makes Palin fascinating is the contrast between her reality-TV show persona and the fact that a major party nominated her for vice president. The further she gets from that legitimizing event, the more she’ll seem like just another tabloid wacko.” Plus, on the up side, Beinart says, there is a constituency for her. “With Mike Huckabee, John Thune and Haley Barbour all skipping the race, Palin could claim much of the social-conservative vote. Yes, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann play in that space, but they’re chihuahuas. Palin is the big dog. Her support among Christian evangelicals would prove particularly valuable in Iowa.”

And that, by golly, is why Ronald Reagan will be the GOP nominee!

Unfortunately for Beinart and others who have mastered the past, Palin is a total 21st century phenomenon. She does not want to be president; she does not want to run for president; she wants to use the presidential aura that has been bestowed upon her to enhance her celebrity, her Q rating, her name recognition, her popularity; in short, her potential to make money. She wants to do broadly what Donald Trump was able to do specifically: use the fact that some number of people think she possesses supreme leadership potential to imbue her with the legitimacy that her own thinly-considered, cliche-studded ideas do not, and reap as much money from television appearances, book deals, speaking engagements, calenders, mugs and key rings that the market will surrender. She wants to use her presidential potential in the same way that in the sixties and seventies the starlet Edy Williams would take off her bikini top on the beach at Cannes: to leverage press attention and get more work.

It’s true, as Beinart says, that she occupies a space that would have enabled her to run for president, but it’s clear that she isn’t up to it. And they know it. Parents see this all the time: their kids will play baseball or basketball for years, will make the game the center of their lives, and then, once they get cut from a team, will stop playing without a thought. Some parents will say try harder, train more, but what is so often true is that the kids know in their hearts that they do not measure up. They’ve tried their best, and they can see with their own eyes that there are other kids who are faster and stronger and more deserving of being on the team. In 2008, Sarah Palin got plucked from the political minors and was given a shot to play in the big game. She knows better than anyone the humiliation of having one’s deficiencies exposed in that arena.

But that doesn’t mean she wants to blow her shot at more big money. Which is why she is undertaking this big national tour this week, which attracted so much publicity. Which is why she promenaded into midtown Manhattan yesterday during the evening rush hour to meet Donald Trump and have a Regular Working Joe dinner of pepperoni pizza, sausage pizza and a meatball pizza in the Famous Famiglia pizzeria conveniently located to both tourists and media outlets at 50th Street and Broadway. I don’t know what Trump told her; indeed, I don’t know if he even said a word. But he showed her how he makes the press sit up and beg, and perhaps she learned a thing or two.

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.