Dan Bartlett: Palin Missed the Mark

So far Sarah Palin has given no further clues of what she plans to do after leaving the governor's office behind.

The most recognizable face of Alaskan politics is stepping down even though her term should last another 18 months.

"I have given my reasons," she said at her Friday announcement. "No more 'politics as usual,' and I am taking my fight for what's right - for Alaska - in a new direction."

Palin made it clear what she called the politics of destruction played a role in a decision that left many scratching their heads.

"Although it may be tempting and more comfortable to just kind of keep your head down and plod along and appease those who are demanding, 'Hey, just sit down and shut up,' but that's a worthless, easy path out," she said Friday. "That's a quitter's way out."

So, she quit.

When asked what his reaction to Palin's surprise announcement was, Dan Bartlett, former aide to George W. Bush, said, "Just that: What?"

Appearing on CBS' "The Early Show," Bartlett said the Alaska governor has once again left both supporters and detractors scratching their heads, and did not leave much of a road map going forward about what her political ambition might be.

"I kind of view this as a two-step process," Bartlett told anchor Harry Smith. "She believes, probably, she has outgrown the governorship of Alaska. She's going to spend some time getting her family affairs in order and charting a course that will give her the opportunity, potentially down the road, to seek higher office."

"From your perspective, is she an asset or liability to the party?" asked Smith.

"I think it's too early to tell," he replied. "I think there's a core part of our party that really does appreciate what she brings to the table. She generates a lot of coverage obviously, and has become a lightning rod. But if she harnesses that in a positive direction and demonstrates over the course of the next couple of years that she can be a positive force for the party and shore up some of her liabilities, like on foreign policy . . . she needs to do a lot if she decides to run for president.

"So this is still an untold story, Harry," Bartlett said.

The former White House Communications Director and Counselor to the President said Palin draws support due to what he called her raw energy in which fans see an authenticity. "That's why I think where she missed the mark on Friday, by leaving people guessing, I think she's not coming forward in a very straight, direct way, really telling what her intentions are," he said. "It's this kind of vague language she was using. Well, is she or is she not? I think that was a mistake."

CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy said that if Alaska voters are disappointed at their governor quitting mid-term, Palin still has significant support in the Republican Party on a national level, built up rapidly last year after John McCain named her as his running mate. Some say she may try to parlay that support into a bid for the White House in 2012.

"The rank and file of the Republican Party look at Sarah Palin and see part of themselves in her," said Roger Simon of Politico.com. "She will attract large crowds of Republicans especially, just by virtue of the fact she is Sarah Palin."

But with no official platform from which to campaign, her critics say that by resigning now she will start to see that support erode.

Palin, characteristically, is keeping her thoughts to herself.

"I think of the saying on my parent's refrigerator, little magnet that says, 'Don't explain, your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway.'"

People who know Palin say she doesn't like to take much outside advice, said McCarthy. She likes to rely on her own political instincts. It remains to be seen whether this time around her instincts have got it right.

And what advice would Bartlett give to Palin?

"Going forward, what she needs to do is demonstrate she can be there for the party during the mid-term elections next year, and then work on finding some way to demonstrate that she can play on the international stage. That's been one of her big Achilles' heels during the last election cycle. I would tell her, over the course of the next 18 to 24 months, to find ways to demonstrate that she can have a seat at that international table as well."