Watch CBSN Live

Palin Needs to Take Herself Seriously

The "On The Marc" column is written by Marc Ambinder, CBS News' chief political consultant.

The key to making a political comeback is to have somewhere to come back from -- and somewhere to return to.

Sarah Palin can't make a comeback because she didn't go anywhere. Not up, not down. Not sideways. Aside from a brief and totally artificial post selection bounce last year, Palin remains a fixed political commodity.

To simplify, the entire political left thinks she's a caricature of know-nothing knuckle-dragging conservatism. About half of the political right thinks she's an anti-hero. The rest of the right is nervous about her effects on that first half.

For Palin to get to somewhere -- for her to create a political narrative that changes people's minds about her, she has to change something.

An idea: since an overwhelming majority of Americans don't believe she is qualified to be president, Palin could spend the better part of three years boning up on policy. Instead, she resigned the governorship, bizarrely so, and promised to work on Alaskan issues from the outside. To date, her contribution to the world of policy: "death panels."

Palin, as the book "Sarah From Alaska" by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe shows, is very happy to be where she is. Her lack of depth, she thinks, is a creation of the liberal media. It's well and good for her to think that, but it isn't true.

Instead, Palin is content to update her Facebook page with well-written -- ghost-written -- formulaic conservative talking points. This isn't a knock against conservative ideas -- this is a knock against Palin's incapacity to understand how limited she is by her refusal to engage with the world on its own terms.

Read an Exclusive Excerpt from "Sarah from Alaska"
Washington Unplugged Interviews Conroy and Walshe

The right conservative can seize the moment. The right type of candidate can fuse social conservatism and economic populism in a way that harnesses the discontent of the Obama era. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Palin remotely qualifies.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is eager to occupy this terrain. He has a better claim to it, having served eight pragmatic years as the governor of a state.

I don't know whether this conservative-populist fusion can elect someone president. I suspect not. But it can certainly win a nomination -- and any Republican who isn't preparing for a nasty referendum on the GOP establishment during the 2012 primaries is not going to make it out of Keokuk.

Palin doesn't lead a movement now because movement implies a direction. She leads Palinism -- a static universe that isn't expanding beyond a density of about 23 percent of adults.

CBS News Poll: Less Than 1 in 4 Have Favorable View of Palin

She can give a charming interview, but not one without self-promoting errors -- even small adjustments to the truth that probably aren't worth the guff she gets for the embellishment.

To be a more plausible candidate, Palin doesn't have to give up on annoying the media. She doesn't have to soften her conservatism. She doesn't have to wear new clothes or work on her accent. She doesn't have to reject her family, or to compromise her values, or any of that.

And yet -- that's what Palin seems to believe that changing would entail. What she has to do, really, is to take the idea of the presidency seriously -- to display humility (not an "my interview went poorly" humility) -- and to earn the trust of Americans.

That's going to be tough to do if she doesn't recognize that her selection as vice presidential candidate in 2008 was largely ornamental -- for political reasons -- and not plausibly based on merit.

Couldn't you say the same thing about Barack Obama? Back in 2002, he got something right that Washington got really wrong. Simply based on his knowledge of the way the world worked, he correctly predicted the consequences of a disastrous war with Iraq. But he had to work, over the course of a long primary, to cross the commander-in-chief threshold. Had the economy not tanked, perhaps he might not have crossed the threshold.

Palin can't assume that the political environment will give her an "Easy Button." She has to work at it.

More Coverage of Sarah Palin:

Is Palin Selling Books or Settling Scores?
Exclusive: Palin Accounts Disputed by McCain Aides
Fact Check: Palin Seems to Misrepresent Timeline on Daughter's Pregnancy
Fact Check: Palin Contradicts Her Own Version Of Events With Oprah
Sarah Palin: I Was "Annoyed" by Katie Couric's Newspaper Question
Sarah Palin: My Life is Like a Reality Show
Bob Schieffer on Palin: No Future in Politics

View CBS News In