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The Revolution Will Be Commercialized

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Logo illustration by Felix Sockwell.   

While she’s waiting for her television career to begin in earnest, she’s been busy on the speaker’s circuit, having signed with the prestigious Washington Speakers Bureau. Palin commands $100,000 per speech, putting her in the same league as fellow Speakers Bureau clients Colin Powell, George W. Bush, and Rudy Giuliani. Since leaving office, she’s scheduled speeches to the Daytona Chamber of Commerce; the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce; the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America; the Charity of Hope fund-raiser in Hamilton, Ontario; the Get Motivated Seminar in Beaumont, Texas; the Complete Woman Expo; the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America; and the Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference. In February, she delivered the keynote address at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.

Palin’s $100,000 contract for the tea-party event—which drew fire from rival tea-party groups angry that Palin was cashing in at their expense—included $18,000 for private-jet travel for her and an entourage of five people, according to two people who’ve seen the contract. Palin jetted to Nashville with two bodyguards, her spokesperson Meg Stapleton, and her daughter Piper. “I remember looking at the contract and was thinking, Holy cow,” one person involved in organizing the event says. “It was very specific on a lot of details.” Most events require a Learjet, or its equivalent, from Wasilla, at a cost of some $1,500 per hour of flight time.

Though Palin may not like it, she makes money for Democrats and Republicans alike. Across the political spectrum, Palin is a ratings magnet. Whenever she appears on Fox News, ratings tick up by 10 to 15 percent. At MSNBC, she’s also a ratings phenomenon, albeit with opposite adjectives. Tina Fey’s reprisal of her Palin character in early April juiced Saturday Night Live’s ratings, beating prime-time programming, a rare feat. Online, right-wing sites like the Drudge Report frequently plug Palin headlines, while Palin’s presence at liberal outlets like the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo routinely sparks hundreds of reader comments. During the campaign, people said she could be another Oprah, but now, in many ways, she’s bigger than Oprah, an empath for people who feel, rightly or wrongly, that America has forgotten them. “People are drawn to her,” says Fox News programming chief Bill Shine. “People look at her and say, ‘She has a bunch of the same troubles I do, there’s a mom who’s there changing diapers.’ ”

And she’s a canny—and completely modern—promoter of her product. Last year, Bristol introduced her mom to Facebook, and Palin began speaking to her audience of 1.5 million fans directly with frequent status updates and tweets, which consist of conservative boilerplate (“Man-Made Global Warming=Snow Job”) interspersed with chirpy reports about goings-on in Wasilla (“Family is getting ready for Todd’s IronDog race tomorrow; I’m watching @GlennBeck on TV now giving #CPAC speech, while racers are in garage).

For an operation with such a massive footprint in both politics and entertainment, Palin has a tiny inner circle. Her team includes husband Todd and her close friend Kris Perry. In D.C., Palin relies on her former advance aide Jason Recher, and she also maintains ties to John Coale, the powerful Democratic lawyer and husband of Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, former Nixon aide Fred Malek, and neoconservative foreign-policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, a McCain adviser and hunting enthusiast from Minnesota who was a fierce ally inside the McCain campaign. Palin also hired former RNC finance director Tim Crawford as her PAC’s treasurer, as well as Pam Pryor, a former spokesperson for conservative black Republican congressman J. C. Watts, to improve her relationships with fellow Republicans. Palin gets advice from Rebecca Mansour, a right-wing activist who co-founded the blog Conservatives4Palin.com, and Kim Daniels, a pro-life attorney for the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, whose slogan reads, “The Sword and Shield for People of Faith.”

Palin’s bare-bones staff and seat-of-the-pants approach have often caused her problems. In February 2009, Palin canceled a planned appearance to headline the CPAC conference in D.C., claiming she was too busy. Also this past winter, Palin’s spokesperson Stapleton quit, and Palin has made no move to replace her. Communication in and out of Palinworld for many reporters, and even fellow Republicans, is virtually nonexistent. Last month, her staff told Republican officials to take her name off the guest list of a fund-raiser after they had hyped her appearance. Palin’s relations with the national GOP, which have always been fraught, haven’t gotten any better. Palin is a fund-raising machine and a turbocharger for the right-wing base. The party knows she is a possible bridge to the fractious and suspicious tea-party crowd. But Palin’s conspicuous lack of depth—and the sheer joy she takes in what she doesn’t know—is a source of angst among Republicans who see larger brand risk if Palin comes to define the party. Meanwhile, she continues her erratic flirtation with a presidential run. Where other likely candidates—Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty—are preparing for 2012 with staffs and advisers and carefully planned travel schedules, Palin is, essentially, winging it.


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