Sometimes a business is a little too smart for its own good. The 2008 presidential election had so many amazing superstars; besides the guy who actually won the presidency you had Joe the Plumber, guitar playing Mike Huckabee and the biggest right wing hero of them all, former Alaska governor and Vice Presidential pick Sarah Palin. Fox News had a brilliant plan to throw the former stars of 2008 a (life preserver) ahem television contract, in order to keep them relevant in the intervening 4 years. The logic was pretty sound, if you give Sarah Palin a television show, she’ll stay in the public eye and when she runs again in 2012 you’ll have unfettered loyalty and access. But things didn’t quite work out that way, and last week it was announced that Palin and Fox News would be parting ways, somewhat amicably. How did it all go so wrong so quickly?
The easy answer is to just say that Palin is a dummy and was bad on television but those are obvious problems. What was really going on was that Fox News basically paid not one but TWO of the biggest stars of the GOP out of ever wanting to run for president again. Given how she jumped ship on the state of Alaska soon after the election it had to be pretty obvious to most observers that Palin did not care much for public office anymore and wanted to be a Tea Party celebrity and multi-million dollar speechmaker, both laudable goals. However, her Fox News contract, along with the other television shows and specials she was able to get from that springboard (both for herself and her kids) kept Palin fat and happy. She didn’t have to hustle nearly as much politically. Even after the big Tea Party success in 2010 she was already starting to get eclipsed by Michelle Bachman who was not only a Tea Partier but also still actually in government. Had Palin been forced to make her own way for the lean years between 2008 and 2011 when the campaign really kicked off, she might have stayed more grounded and been able to maintain some political clout, instead she and her family were off making reality television celebrities of themselves, which weakened her brand and essentially made her less and less relevant.
The exact opposite happened with Mike Huckabee although Fox was essentially in the same boat come 2012. Huckabee, who by all accounts would have been Obama’s toughest GOP challenger in 2012 decided not to run because FOX news was PAYING HIM SO MUCH MONEY. His half a million dollar contract along with a once or twice a week television show gave him a lifestyle he never dreamed of. Why would he ever give that up to run for president for 2 years? The difference between Huckabee and Palin though, is that the former Arkansas governor turned out to be pretty good at television, and Palin, ever searching for the next shiny object couldn’t find a way to make her cushy job at Fox work.
With Palin leaving Fox, it is all but clear that the Tea Party is effectively dead as a political force and Palin herself is going to go the way of fallen political celebrities like Paul Hackett and Jesse Ventura. But she will be remembered as being the inspiration for a great HBO movie, a great television show and putting Tina Fey’s career into the stratosphere. Not the legacy she probably wanted but not too shabby for a one hit wonder half-qualified governor.