WASHINGTON – The Fourth of July weekend usually represents a rare period of peace and quiet in the U.S. capital, yet politicians and pundits alike spent the holiday in a frenzy of speculation about why Sarah Palin suddenly quit as governor of Alaska.
Some say the most popular Republican in the United States is simply freeing herself up from a remote and far-flung state so she can devote all her energy toward a run for president in 2012.
Others suspect something more sinister is afoot and suggest she’s about to become embroiled in a major Alaskan scandal, pointing to the abruptness of the announcement made on the eve of Independence Day that caught even Republicans by surprise.
Others are taking Palin at face value – after months of relentless negative media coverage and fending off a litany of ethics complaints, the governor has simply decided she’s had it with the dirty business of politics.
“Those who’ve been deeply involved in politics know that at the end of the day it really and truly is a personal deal,” Vice-President Joe Biden said in an interview on ABC on Sunday.
“I respect her decision … I take her at her word that it has a personal ingredient in it and you have to respect that.”
Nonetheless, behind the scenes, the Obama administration has reportedly been endlessly entertained by Palin’s latest move, while Republicans are running the gamut from perplexed and annoyed to relieved if it’s true she wants out of politics altogether.
Many of the Republican elite are wary of Palin, fearing she’s woefully ill-prepared for a run for the White House and unwilling to recognize it.
Everyday Americans, meanwhile – just as they have been since Palin exploded onto the political scene last summer – are fascinated by her motivations and what might lie ahead for one of the most polarizing and compelling politicians in recent memory.
Chatter about Palin dominated the Sunday morning talk shows as the country’s best-known pundits attempted to solve the mystery.
“Is it a strategy? Or is it just about her?” Juan Williams of National Public Radio wondered on Fox News Sunday.
While Palin’s advisers insist she’s truly undecided about running in 2012, a Facebook message posted by the governor over the weekend seems to hint she intends to remain a major player on the national political stage.
“I’ve never thought I needed a title before one’s name to forge progress in America,” Palin wrote in the message to her supporters.
“I am now looking ahead and how we can advance this country together with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint. I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve greatness!”
Bill Kristol, a conservative columnist who’s been one of Palin’s biggest cheerleaders, says the governor is making a “high-risk move” in an attempt to position herself for 2012.
“This does give her a chance to travel the country and campaign for Republican candidates,” said Kristol, who played a key role last summer in convincing John McCain to tap the junior governor as his running mate.
“I think she could have a very strong year and a half here … she’s really just getting out there and it’s going to depend on her talents and her abilities. She now feels she can get out and be on her own.”
Despite telling a hastily called news conference on Friday that she and her family needed a break, Palin had a busy weekend. In addition to posting to her Facebook wall, she directed her Twitter followers to a statement from her lawyer disputing any suggestion that an embezzlement scandal could be looming.
“See letter from my attorney on baseless allegations of the past 24 hrs,” Palin tweeted in a late-night Independence Day message.
Thomas Van Flein is threatening legal action against a number of websites and news organizations that resurrected an allegation that Palin is under federal investigation involving the simultaneous construction of her lakeside home and a sports complex in Wasilla.
“To the extent several websites, most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, are now claiming as ‘fact’ that Governor Palin resigned because she is ‘under federal investigation’ for embezzlement or other criminal wrongdoing, we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation,” he said in his statement.
Van Flein included the New York Times and the Washington Post in his statement, even though neither publication has written a word about the sports complex.
“What I’ve been informed is that they’ve been interviewing people in Wasilla about this, and have tried to interview the governor’s parents about it,” Van Flein told the Anchorage Daily News.
Palin’s announcement has prompted some to draw parallels to Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1962 after losing the California governor’s race, petulantly telling opponents that they “won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Nixon then used the next six years quietly rebuilding his image, forging bonds with Republicans who were leery of him and studiously getting up to speed on the issues of the day. He was elected president twice, in 1968 and 1972.
“We travelled all over the country on behalf of Republican candidates, built up this enormous good will,” conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, a Nixon aide, said in the hours following Palin’s resignation.
But most of the Sunday morning pundits pointed out that by complaining about the media’s coverage of her, Palin has simply made herself look unprepared for a run for the presidency in three years.
“If you can’t take the heat in Juneau, Washington is a lot hotter,” said Todd Purdum, whose damning profile of Palin in the August issue of Vanity Fair magazine is said to have angered the governor.
Mike Huckabee, possibly one of Palin’s rivals if she makes a run in 2012, suggested the Alaska governor needed a thicker skin.
“If she’s looking to be a national political figure, it’s not going to get easier,” he said.