Calling Sarah Palin a potentially "catastrophic" choice for the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, John McCain's former chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt said today the Republican party needs to look more toward the center.
"I think she has talents, but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican party in 2012," he said. "Were she to be the nominee, we could have a catastrophic election result."
Palin, the former Alaska governor and Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate in the 2008 election, has fueled speculation that she could vie for the Republican nomination in the next presidential election with the upcoming release of her new book, "Going Rogue." When asked today at The First Draft of History conference in Washington, D.C. how he would be portrayed in Palin's book, Schmidt replied, "I think it may say I was anti-rogue in the running of the campaign."
It is not inconceivable Palin could win the 2012 Republican nomination, Schmidt said -- but it is inconceivable she could win the presidency.
"In the year since the election has ended she's done nothing to expand her appeal beyond [her conservative] base," he said. President Obama has already lost the support of the middle of the electorate, Schmidt argued, and "that independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012."
Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, also speaking at the conference, contended that those independent voters are more likely to seek out third party candidates because of the Republican party's current dearth of ideas.
"You will see not a gravitational move to the Republican party unless it changes," he said. "There would be a gravitation toward independent candidates."
Both the Republican and Democratic strategists agreed, however, that the next election is still Mr. Obama's to lose -- and whether or not the economy improves will be critical for him.
"If the economy recovers... and the president has been correct that his policies are fixing the economy, it will be tough for a Republican candidate to beat him," Schmidt said.
Schmidt agreed with Shrum, though, that the Republican party's main challenge is to come up with new ideas.
"The party holistically is bereft of ideas," he said. "The challenge of the next presidential candidate is to make conservatism relevant to the time we live in today. It was a problem we dealt with [in the 2008 campaign], which was the conservative agenda ... had exhausted itself."
New ideas are needed, he said, to restore trust in national institutions. The best politicians, he added, have "led by being antidotes to cynicism."
Meanwhile, Shrum said, Democrats need to prove they can actually effectively govern.
While Mr. Obama has made passing health care legislation the central component of his domestic policy, Shrum contended that its failure would have a bigger impact on congressional Democrats than the president. By going against the president -- as moderate congressional Democrats did to former President Clinton with respect to health care and to former President Carter with respect to energy, Shrum said -- they will confirm voters' suspicions that the Democrats are not a competent governing party.
"I don't think it's Obama in the long run who will get hurt," he said. "Democrats will pay a price in 2010."
More from the "First Draft of History" Conference:
Lindsey Graham Hits Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly
Geithner: Goal is not to Save People From Mistakes
Petraeus: Afghanistan is not Iraq or Vietnam
Doctor: U.S. Needs to Control "Tsunami of Obesity"
McCain Pushes for More Troops for Afghanistan