Michelle McCormick was "working on a hellacious bar tab" in Clive, Iowa, when I called her Wednesday evening to get her reaction to the announcement that Sarah Palin will not run for president. McCormick has spent months in Iowa as a volunteer leader of the grassroots group Organize4Palin, and had every right to be bitter about the long waiting game that led up to Palin's final "no." Yet the 28-year-old Texan was cheerfully drinking away her disappointment and still full of praise for the former Alaska governor who inspired her.
"I keep telling people, no regrets," said McCormick, who left her job and moved to Iowa to work without pay on Palin's behalf. "I've had so much fun doing this -- the people that I've met and good friendships I've made -- I would not trade that for anything. Shoot -- I got to meet Sarah Palin a couple of times. Man, that was awesome…. We still respect Governor Palin and respect her decision.… I will always respect Sarah Palin. Next to my mom, she's one of my biggest role models. I've had a wonderful journey doing this."
If McCormick did not fault Palin for the drawn-out "will she or won't she" drama that continued all summer and into October, why should anyone else? Yet Palin's announcement was an occasion for some to mock diehard supporters like McCormick.
"I told you people she was not running," Red State editor-in-chief wrote in a Twitter message Wednesday evening after Palin went on Mark Levin's nationally syndicated radio show to say she had decided not to seek the presidency in 2012. In a subsequent message, Erickson wrote: "I won't hold my breath for any apologies. LOL." A CNN commentator whose blog hosted Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential announcement in August, Erickson had spent Friday posting a series of sarcastic hourly front-page updates beginning in the pre-dawn hours: "It is 6am ET. Sarah Palin has not announced yet."
Friday was the last day in September, a month that Palin had previously mentioned as when she would make her decision, but Erickson did not explain why he seemed so determined to alienate Palin's most loyal fans by mocking their hopes. One conservative blogger, William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection, cited Erickson's comments as evidence of "how disgusting our own party is, and what types of creeps have influence." Jacobson was one of many who had been hoping Palin would seek the 2012 Republican nomination ever since the end of the 2008 campaign, when Sen. John McCain electrified the GOP grassroots with his surprise choice of Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.
Palin herself expressed sympathy for her heartbroken supporters. "I apologize to those who are disappointed in this decision," she told Greta Van Susteren in a Fox News interview late Wednesday. "I've been hearing from them in the last couple of hours, but I believe that they -- when they take a step back -- will understand why the decision was made." Palin said she had reached her decision "after prayerful consideration and a lot of discussion with the family." She received messages of encouragement from several leading conservatives, among them Michelle Malkin who Tweeted, "More power to you, @SarahPalinUSA," and included a link to a blog post where Malkin wrote, "Sarah Palin will continue to be one of the nation's most powerfully effective voices for grass-roots conservatism."
It was Malkin who gave a name to the unique hatred that liberals (and some Republicans) focused on the former Alaska governor: "Palin Derangement Syndrome." Almost from the moment she was introduced as McCain's VP choice, Palin inspired lunatic reactions from liberals, including Andrew Sullivan, whose blog repeatedly speculated about the circumstances surrounding the birth of Palin's fifth child, Trig. But while liberals frothed in demented rage, Palin quickly became a favorite of conservatives, and boosted the GOP ticket's poll numbers. The first time I covered her on the campaign trail in the small town of Lebanon, Ohio -- where hundreds gathered in a drizzling rain to see her -- I dubbed her "Sweetheart of the Heartland." Even after the collapse of the Republican campaign due to McCain's panicked reaction to the Wall Street crisis, Palin remained popular enough to cause Pennsylvanians to line up in the cold to see her in late October.
Her popularity suffered from relentless attacks by a hostile media, and when Palin pointed out the unfairness and inaccuracy of journalists who were "just makin' up stuff," critics accused her of "whining." Many in the GOP Establishment -- including some members of McCain's campaign staff -- set out to make Palin the scapegoat for the 2008 defeat. Liberals in Alaska, seizing on an ethics law that Palin had helped enact, used it to lodge an endless series of unsubstantiated charges against her, forcing her to resign the governorship midway through her first term -- and then called her a "quitter." And then, as if to add insult to injury, journalist Joe McGinniss moved in next door to the family to write a book so full of baseless gossip that even the liberal New York Times disdained it as shoddy.
As her enemies exulted in the wake of Palin's announcement Wednesday, pundits quickly turned their attention to which of the 2012 presidential candidates would gain most from her decision not to run. "My guess is that [Herman] Cain benefits the most from her absence," wrote the mysterious Allahpundit at the popular Hot Air blog. "Like her, he's a Beltway outsider, and like her, he seems like a real person, not a talking-points machine.… Authenticity has always been key to Palin's appeal among her supporters and that's Cain all over." Palin herself praised the Atlanta businessman on Van Susteren's Fox News show, saying she was "intrigued" and "impressed" with Cain's "business acumen" and "up by the bootstraps" success.
The 2012 campaign will now go on without the Republican Party's biggest political star, who as recently as Labor Day drew hundreds to hear her speak in Manchester, N.H., where the crowd chanted, "Run, Sarah, run!" Like her enemies -- now deprived of their pet scapegoat -- Palin's supporters will have to look elsewhere for inspiration. In Iowa, where Palin's disappointed volunteers gathered in a bar to share their sorrow, Michelle McCormick said she wasn't planning to join any other campaign, but would return to Texas. "I'm anxious to get back to work and get my paycheck," she laughed, and pondered a worst-case scenario for next fall's election. "Truth be told, if it comes down to RomneyCare vs. ObamaCare in 2012 -- good God, that's gonna be rough."
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