In the aftermath of the November election, the conventional wisdom among Palin’s supporters in the Republican establishment was that she should go home, keep her head down, show that she could govern effectively, and quietly educate herself about foreign and domestic policy with the help of a cadre of experienced advisers. Rather, she has pursued an erratic course that, for her, may actually represent the closest thing there is to True North.Her first trip to Washington since the election was to attend the dinner of the Alfalfa Club, an elite group of politicians and businesspeople whose sole function is an annual evening in honor of a plant that would “do anything for a drink.” Some of her handlers first said she had accepted—though she then went on to decline—an invitation to speak at the annual June fund-raiser for the congressional Republicans.Despite her disastrous performance in the 2008 election, Sarah Palin is still the sexiest brand in Republican politics, with a lucrative book contract for her story.
One person familiar with the situation told me that Donatelli could not stand dealing with Palin’s political spokeswoman in Alaska, Meghan Stapleton, who has drawn withering fire from Palin friends and critics alike for being an ineffective adviser.
Also with Coale’s help, Palin formed the grandiosely named Alaska Fund Trust, to defray a reported half million dollars in legal expenses arising from a slew of formal ethics complaints against her in her home state—prompting yet another formal complaint, that the fund itself constitutes an ethical breach. Walter Hickel, 89, a former two-term governor and interior secretary, and the grand old man of Alaska politics, who was co-chair of Palin’s winning gubernatorial campaign, in 2006, now washes his hands of her.
She passes the press pen, where at least eight television cameras and a passel of reporters and photographers are corralled, and spots a reporter for a local community newspaper getting ready to take a happy snap with his pocket camera.
For a split second she stops, pauses, turns her head and shoulders just so, and smiles.
She created a political-action committee—Sarahpac—with the help of John Coale, a prominent Democratic trial lawyer.
But just months into its existence the pac’s chief fund-raiser, Becki Donatelli, a veteran of Republican campaigns, suddenly quit.
He told me simply, “I don’t give a damn what she does.”Palin is unlike any other national figure in modern American life—neither Anna Nicole Smith nor Margaret Chase Smith but a phenomenon all her own.
The clouds of tabloid conflict and controversy that swirl around her and her extended clan—the surprise pregnancies, the two-bit blood feuds, the tawdry in-laws and common-law kin caught selling drugs or poaching game—give her family a singular status in the rogues’ gallery of political relatives.
The menu is thick slices of roast pork and red velvet cake, washed down with pitchers of iced tea, and when Sarah Palin finally enters, escorted by a phalanx of sheriff’s deputies and local police, she is mobbed.