The news of former future Vice President Sarah Palin‘s exit from Fox News has led to the inevitable media autopsy of Palin’s career as a pop culture super-duper-star, but missing from the discussion is the irony that her demise offers a last gasp of relevance. As Republicans and Democrats pray they never have to vote on the most meaningful of President Obama‘s post-Newtown gun regulation proposals, they should look at Palin’s trajectory when deciding what to do should such a vote ever be put before them. It’s been a long road to the media grave for Sarah Palin, but it all started about two years ago, in the aftermath of another horrific mass shooting.
It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the hotness of Sarah Palin’s media star at its peak. Think of every exploding media firework to seize the national imagination for their 15 minutes; Anthony Weiner, Herman Cain, Christine O’Donnell, Donald Trump, James O’Keefe, Balloon Boy. Each took their turn dominating headlines for a few weeks, or even months, but Sarah Palin burned hotter and brighter for two and-a-half years. In the world of the microscopic news cycle, Palin’s staying power was untouchable. Nothing could stop her, and the more her detractors hated her, the more powerful she became.
Then, a horrific mass shooting in Tucson claimed the lives of six Americans, including 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green, and left Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) fighting for her life. Palin was drawn into the post-shooting conversation by Giffords herself, who had, months earlier, called Palin out by name for placing crosshairs on Giffords’ district in a political ad.
This is where things begin to sound eerily familiar, because just as the National Rifle Association did in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Sarah Palin waited several days to respond, heightening the anticipation. Like the NRA, Palin was faced with a choice between responding in a low-key, productive manner, or something else. The NRA chose to seize maximum attention for itself by holding a press conference one week, almost to the minute, after the Newtown tragedy, and used that spotlight to deliver the most self-serving, tone-deaf response to a mass shooting since… this.
Sarah Palin waited four days, then used the day of the Tucson memorial to deliver the most tone deaf, self-serving response to a mass shooting ever. Although he now blames more generalized extremism for Palin’s decay, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough absolutely nailed it back then, and actually dared us all to “save the tape.” Here it is:
It’s been a long two years of waning influence for Sarah Palin, but Joe Scarborough was absolutely right, Palin’s orbit was forced into decay by that self-inflicted wound. She remained about as popular with the people who already liked her, but after that video address, Palin’s unfavorable ratings shot over fifty percent, and stayed there. Republicans like Newt Gingrich heaped on the criticism, and even Dick Morris acknowledged Palin had made a mistake. It was the first sign of vulnerability in an indestructible media brand. By the time Palin announced she would not run for president, Republican voters had already decided they didn’t want her to.
The big difference between Sarah Palin and the NRA is that no one was forced to stand with Palin in the aftermath of Tucson, so she wasn’t able to drag anyone down with her. That’s not the case with the NRA, or at least, it won’t be. Republicans and Democrats alike can mumble about how a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines will be a “heavy lift,” but if and when these measures are actually put up for a vote, everyone, from Harry Reid and Joe Manchin to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, will have to choose whether to cast their lot with the NRA, and potentially drink the poison that killed Sarah Palin’s career.
Until they have to vote, legislators can always point at the other guys and just say “The votes weren’t there,” but once these measures, which enjoy overwhelming public support, are brought up for a vote, they will have to put up, but not shut up. They will have to explain why they voted for an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine and a grenade launcher. When they do, they should remember Sarah Palin, pour some out for her, and do the right thing.
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