In Wake of Tucson Tragedy, What's Sarah Palin's Next Move?

Sarah Palin and her campaign website targeting Congressional Democrats.
Sarah Palin and her campaign website targeting Congressional Democrats.

In the wake of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona - in which six were killed and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others were injured - Sarah Palin has maintained a relatively low profile.

After expressing her "sincere condolences" to the shooting's victims and their families via Facebook on Saturday, Palin has made only one other statement to the press: an e-mail to Glenn Beck, which he excerpted on his show on Monday.

In the e-mail, Palin allegedly told Beck, "I hate violence," and - in a characteristic swipe at mainstream "politicos" - added that "our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this."

But as signs point increasingly to a Palin presidential bid in 2012, some wonder if the former governor's notoriously controlled media presence - which is largely limited to Tweets, Facebook "notes," her reality television show and appearances on Fox News (the conservative cable news network where she is a paid contributor) - will end up working against her.

In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, in which 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire at a political gathering outside of a grocery store, many have criticized the politically inflammatory and seemingly gun-invoking rhetoric and imagery Palin has employed on the campaign trail in the past.

In March, Palin's SarahPAC released an ad pointing to 20 House Democrats Palin was targeting for defeat in the midterm elections. The candidates' districts are marked on a map with what appear to be gun sights, and their names and districts are listed beneath the map. Giffords was featured as a target on it.

Palin was also criticized for a Tweet, posted the same month, which instructed followers: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"

A spokeswoman for the former vice presidential candidate has since denied that she intended for the images on the map to resemble gun sights, but Palin herself has yet to publicly acknowledge the criticism. Neither has she made a public appearance addressing the violence in Tucson on Saturday.

Some have wondered, then, if Palin, in order to be taken seriously as a prospective presidential candidate, needs to "step out of the political comfort zone she has defined for herself" - regardless of whether or not she agrees with the criticism being lobbed at her.

"At a time like this, what the nation wants more than anything else is for people to rise above the nonsense and the politics and to be gracious," said Ari Fleischer, former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush, in an interview with the New York Times. "There's nothing like letting people see your heart, your emotion. Facebook and Twitter don't convey emotion."

And at a moment that could end up being a crossroads in her political career, the PR path that Palin chooses - whether to ignore the criticism or confront it in the public spotlight - is crucial.

If Palin wants to return to the political arena, she will likely have to do so soon, as the 2012 GOP presidential primary will quickly be in full swing. Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said on Monday he will make a decision about his own presidential bid by the end of the month. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has also given clear signs he may soon jump into the race.

Recent signs show that Palin may not yet be ready to give up a life in politics: A TLC representative recently confirmed that the TLC series "Sarah Palin's Alaska" will not return to the air next year, despite consistently strong ratings - a possible indicator that Palin is clearing her schedule to prepare for a presidential bid.

A spokeswoman for the show, however, emphasized that the show had only been scheduled for one eight-episode run, and that it had not been cancelled. "It's not a cancellation. It's not a lack of renewal," said TLC's Laurie Goldberg.