But it’s not yet been shown that Palin needs any specifically political organization, or that she has to kowtow to any gatekeeper to get where she wants to go. In fact, she and her new network have themselves become the gatekeepers. It’s very hard to get anywhere in Republican politics without going past them. And the gate also happens to be a tollbooth.
Nowadays, for both poles of the political spectrum but especially for the right, politics is a business—the entertainment business. The freak show, as Mark Halperin termed it, has been turned into a fully merchandised product. It was Fox’s Roger Ailes who had the insight that the American right was an underserved market, one with a powerful kind of brand loyalty. Fox News has turned a disaffected segment of the populace into a market, with the fervor and idiosyncratic truth standards of a cult. Wingnut-ism has been monetized, is one admittedly partisan way of looking at it. Palin stokes the disaffection of her constituents and then, with the help of Fox, offers to heal them, for a price. And—surprise—they’re more affluent than most Americans. Fifty-six percent make over $50,000 a year, according to a Times/CBS poll. Running for president is no doubt part of her business model. But forget elections (as many Palin supporters already seem to have done); she’s already the president of an alternative America—and also its CEO.
In Wasilla, the Palins are in the midst of a major lifestyle upgrade. There’s a new Escalade in the driveway and a new Dodge Ram pickup for Bristol, says someone who knows the family. When I visited in early April, the sound of whirring saws and hammers could be heard emanating from the trees from the deck of the Best Western Hotel next door, which, since the campaign, has served as a base camp of sorts for visiting press. Todd’s cherry-red seaplane sits propped on its floats by the shoreline.
A couple of years ago, the Palins purchased the adjacent lot from their neighbor, and they are currently building a 6,000-square-foot, three-level structure, according to building plans filed at the Wasilla Planning Office. On the ground floor, Palin will have an apartment for Track, who recently returned from his deployment in Iraq. Upstairs, there’s a second residence for Bristol. Palin is building herself an office that features custom woodwork, a long marble countertop, and panoramic windows. “The view is incredible, from the Chugach Range all the way to the Alaska Range,” Wasilla mayor Verne Rupright told me.
Palin stokes the disaffection of her people, then heals them, for a price.
But her current prosperity was not the case when the campaign ended. Then, Palin needed money, and a crash course in post-campaign reinvention. Palin Inc. began coalescing almost immediately after November 4. Around the holidays, Palin’s spokesperson called Mary Matalin, who was vacationing on her farm in the Shenandoah Valley. During the GOP convention, when Palin first came under fire from the left, Matalin went on CNN and vigorously defended her (“She’s the future of the party,” she said). Palin heard about her performance, and the two began communicating during the campaign and kept in touch afterward. “After the campaign, they were just asking, ‘What do we do now? How does this work?’ ” Matalin says. Matalin, who is editor-in-chief of a conservative imprint at Simon & Schuster, gave her publishing-industry advice and offered to call Washington power agent Bob Barnett—who’s also represented Bill Clinton, Bob Woodward, and Barack Obama. Barnett, recognizing Palin’s value, quickly signed her on. The first order of business was a book deal, which he pitched exclusively to Jonathan Burnham, the publisher of HarperCollins.
Partly because her meltdown with Katie Couric promised more great television, and partly because of her outlandish family life and moose-shooting habits, Palin was a massive American celebrity, and the interest seemed to build rather than fade. “I fielded 1,000 individual requests in the first four or five months after the election,” Bill McAllister told me. Barbara Walters, George Stephanopoulos, and Charlie Gibson all made personal calls in an effort to land post-election interviews with Palin. Stephanopoulos was especially aggressive in his pursuit. “George and I talked so much we’re like new best friends,” McAllister joked. “Bill Maher also tried to book her. In that case, he had to be dreaming.”
But everyone wanted her for free, which was a problem. In November 2008, John Coale tagged along with Van Susteren, who was in Alaska taping an interview with Palin for Fox News. Later, the Fox camera crew, Van Susteren, and Coale gathered around the Palins’ dinner table in Wasilla for some moose chili in her kitchen overlooking Lake Lucille. After dinner, Coale and Palin retreated to the pantry and sat on stacks of boxes and talked for the next hour about her Troopergate dilemma. Palin confessed she didn’t know what to do about her legal bills. “She was concerned she didn’t know how to deal with this,” Coale told me. Coale assured Palin he would figure something out.