Who's the next GOP star?

Thursday's topic: Does the GOP have a potential star? Does it really need one to be an effective opposition to Democrats?

Palin: Still the GOP's star?
Point: Glenn Reynolds

So what would I do if I were Sarah Palin? Probably chuck it all and try to live a normal life. But I'm not a political type. At one point I thought I was, but after practicing law in Washington for a while and seeing senators in their natural habitat, all desire to become one disappeared. (This was also true for a good friend of mine in law school who seemed much more solidly aimed for a political career than I ever was. He spent a few years in D.C. and gave it up. He's in private equity now, and I regard that as a loss for the country. We have set up a system that sorts for power-hungry narcissists, so it's not surprising that that's mostly what we get.)

If I were a political type, I think I'd look at my strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Palin's strength is that she has enormous star power among the Republican base. Her weakness is that a lot of people elsewhere don't like her. Running in 2012 would require overcoming that, which would be hard.

But she could take advantage of her strengths by raising money for fiscally conservative Republicans (and, if she were really clever, some fiscally conservative Democrats) with an eye toward game-changing the 2010 congressional elections. She's likely to do very well at that game, and if you just run with historical trends, the 2010 elections are likely to produce losses for Obama's coalition.

That would let her declare victory. Then she looks like a kingmaker going into the 2012 primary season.

A blog reader who suggested this approach to me also suggested that she could be for fiscal conservatives what Jerry Falwell was for religious conservatives -- someone who turned a generally neglected group into a coherent and fearsome political force. I'd certainly like to see that.

On the other hand, there's a more cynical approach, relying on the American electorate's short attention span and tendency toward mood swings. That would involve pursuing a media career over the next couple of years, followed by a run for the White House in 2012. The assumption would be that bad impressions of her today could be overcome by public relations and the passage of time, so that 2012 would really be a fresh start for all practical purposes. I'm not quite that cynical, but then, as I mentioned, I'm not a politician. This approach also wouldn't be as good for the country.

Katherine, if you were advising Palin, what would you recommend she do? And feel free to distinguish, if you like, between what would be good for Palin and what would be good for the country.

Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, is the creator of

GOP stars are too dim
Counterpoint: Katherine Mangu-Ward

On the Washington Metro last Wednesday, I overheard a pair of twentysomethings chatting about an awesome July 4 party ... at the White House. After discussing the whole scene at length -- you had to "know someone" to get in -- the woman laughed happily and said, "Obama is such a rock star, isn't he?" It wasn't a statement about politics. She was simply pleased at the thought of having a president/rock star around.

Remember that peculiar period during election season when John McCain's campaign was running ads attacking Obama for being a "celebrity"? It didn't work because the people who like Obama just keep liking him; they like that he's a celebrity. The world is falling down around his (sizable) ears, support for his policies staggers downward, and yet 56% of Americans still give him the thumbs-up.

For a moment at the Republican convention, it looked as if Palin might have this superpower too. Faced with a lesser opponent, her undeniable natural star quality -- her greatest asset -- might have won out. But Republicans won't be facing a lesser opponent in 2012. It'll be Obama. Again. And there's no guarantee that Palin's current surprisingly good 45% approval rating will carry her through. So Palin can do whatever she likes to position herself for 2012 -- fiscally conservative fundraiser, party bulldog in lipstick, talking head or Salinger-style recluse -- but nothing is going to repair the rock-star deficit. Playing to her strengths won't work, Glenn, because they aren't strong enough.

A quick survey of the landscape doesn't reveal any obvious star candidates hidden in the rough either. Send an untried man out to be the face of the invigorated GOP today, and a year from now, he'll come staggering back looking like Newt Gingrich circa 1996. And that's a best-case scenario. The worst case is that the farm-team star gets chewed up and spit out by the media in a few weeks, as Palin was last fall. You’re right, Glenn: Making fritters out of your seed corn is a bad idea (and a bad breakfast).

Instead, the Republican Party should play to its strengths. Be the opposition. Oppose spending. Oppose new entitlements. Oppose everything. Have semi-anonymous party spokesmen and congressional leaders in red ties make frequent, grim prognostications about what a hash Democrats are bound to make of things. If the economy rebounds and the soothsaying turns out to be wrong, Republicans are going to lose the next few elections anyway. But if the economic apocalypse comes and Obama's armor fails, at least Republicans can offer a consistent story about what went wrong. And that might give the GOP a shot in 2012, star or no.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor at Reason magazine.