Palin’s Pop: Behind a powerful movement, a reality check

By Rick Klein : What if we got the whole story wrong?

What if Sarah Palin -- celebrating a birthday on Thursday -- isn’t what we assumed she’d be right now, or might become in the future?

What if -- as much as she’s a cultural phenomenon -- the former Alaska governor isn’t a political phenomenon, at least not anymore?

What if she truly doesn’t have a grand plan that leaves her vaulting back into the arena -- or at least looming over 2012 and maybe the next seven presidential cycles afterward? What if that’s not really a viable option for her anyway?

A reality check? You betcha. (And if you think any of this will cool discussions of the storylines above, we’ve got a bridge we’d love you to cross in Alaska.)

Palinistas, get out your lipstick: The new ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests strong skepticism over the prospects of a Palin presidency -- along with a signal that most Americans want to see tea parties brewing a bit longer before they make up their minds.

“Fifty-five percent of Americans see her unfavorably, the most basic measure of a public figure’s popularity, and 71 percent believe she’s not qualified to serve as president, a position she said Sunday she’ll consider seeking,” ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. “Both negatives are at new highs.”

“The numbers are a dramatic indicator of where she would have to catch up if she did want to make that run for the White House,” ABC’s Kate Snow reported on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “She’s gotten America’s attention -- but is it backfiring?”

The poll shows a big drop in her favorability rating since Palin’s book launched in November -- the event that marked her reemergence into an active presence in public life:

“Even among Republicans, a majority now say Palin lacks the qualifications necessary for the White House,” Jon Cohen and Philip Rucker report in the Post. “Palin has lost ground among conservative Republicans, who would be crucial to her hopes if she seeks the party's presidential nomination in 2012. Forty-five percent of conservatives now consider her as qualified for the presidency, down sharply from 66 percent who said so last fall.”

Angst out there, but without real direction -- or clear leadership: “Two-thirds of Americans are ‘dissatisfied’ or downright ‘angry’ about the way the federal government is working,” Cohen and Rucker write.

None of this is likely to change perceptions of Palin’s viability or political power among her supporters. (And governor, your Facebook page remains open, where the MSM awaits your response.)

But these are numbers that suggest the limits of Palin’s appeal -- and hint at damage to her brand, during the phase of an election cycle potential candidates typically use to repair images and broaden appeal.

Maybe Palin herself is neither surprised nor disturbed by any this. Associates say she really doesn’t have a plan that deposits her at the threshold of 2012, that she’s content to make money and launch barbs from sidelines (particularly so long as the media treat her like she’s still in the middle of the field).

And she’s still in the game: “Take Sarah Palin seriously,” David Broder writes in his column. “In the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty -- and potentially, to Obama as well.”

Time’s Joe Klein goes even further : “She does folksy far better than George W. Bush or any of the other Republican focus-group populists ever did ... The Obama presidency certainly hasn't ushered in an era of comity and prosperity. In the end, though, Palin is offering the opposite of hope and change: despair and stasis. The despair is histrionic and purposefully distorted; the stasis proved disastrous during the Bush Administration. But is Sarah Palin the favorite to win the Republican nomination and therefore someone to be taken absolutely seriously? You betcha.”

“She’s a force and a hazard in the GOP,” Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson writes . “Many in the Republican establishment see her as they did the leaders of the Christian Right -- as folks to be used but, like Pat Robertson, laughed at for their aspirations to higher office. Palin doesn’t see herself that way.”

Before you start any third parties -- Gary Langer, on measuring the tea parties : “It’s most popular among conservatives, Republicans, critics of the Obama administration, opponents of health care reform and those who are angry with the government. But the political center’s more ambivalent: In terms of favorability, independents divide essentially evenly on the movement – 39 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable.”

A movement in search of some leadership: “For now, their fears of Obama are enough to tether the Tea Partiers to the GOP. In the long run, establishment Republicans are destined to disappoint them,” E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post column.

Contributing to those conditions -- and maybe altering the forecast -- the AP’s Jennifer Loven and Liz Sidoti with a story Republicans couldn’t wait to circulate:

“Barack Obama's words and goals have remained uncannily the same, from the bone-chilling steps of Illinois' Old State Capitol where he announced his candidacy exactly three years ago Wednesday to the snow-whipped presidential mansion where he sits today. Yet, his big calls for change are unfulfilled in almost every way,” they write . “Progress is scant on all the fronts he laid out three years ago.”

Remember that big pledge on taxes for the middle class? “President Barack Obama said he is ‘agnostic’ about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit,” per Bloomberg’s Rich Miller .

Said the president, in his Tuesday interview with Bloomberg/Business Week: “The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table. ... So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”

White House pushback on the “begrudge” comment on big bonuses: “The President has said countless times as he did in the interview that he doesn’t ‘begrudge’ the success of Americans, but he also expressed ‘shock’ at the size of bonuses and made clear that there are a number of steps that need to be taken to change the culture of Wall Street,” Jen Psaki blogs for the White House. “A sentiment he has consistently expressed since long before he took office.”

The new Quinnipiac University poll shows a public soured on the president -- but really, really down on just about everyone else: “American voters remain deeply divided about President Barack Obama’s job performance, giving him a 45 – 46 percent job approval, but disapproval of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress tops 2-1. ... American voters still disapprove 54 – 35 percent of Obama’s health care reform plan, but they say 52 – 44 percent they want Congress and the President to keep trying on health care reform rather than giving up and moving on to other matters.”

The big news on this still-frozen Thursday (another federal government day off) in Washington:

A major development out of Iran: “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran has already produced highly enriched nuclear material in defiance of the West, as his country on Thursday marked the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic revolution,” AFP’s Hiedeh Farmani reports .

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger , on the president’s “three big bets”: “Mr. Obama’s first bet is that he can accomplish what President George W. Bush tried, and failed, to do: to win global agreement on a set of sanctions that are strong enough to convince Iran’s divided leadership that its nuclear ambitions are not worth the price. ... His second gamble is that he can win over the reluctant Chinese, by convincing them that sanctions are a better alternative than the instability and oil cutoffs that would very likely arise if Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities. ... And finally, Mr. Obama is relying on his ability to dissuade Israel from carrying out an attack, as it did in 2007 when it destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction in Syria.”

Vice President Joe Biden tells Larry King we should be on the lookout for more terrorist attacks: “The concern relates to somebody like a shoe bomber or the underpants bomber, the Christmas attack or someone just strapping a backpack on them with weapons that are indigenous and blowing up, you know, walking into in airport,” Biden said. “I think there are going to be attempts.”

On the White House sked Thursday, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller : “Mr. Obama will sign the ‘Economic Report of the President’ in the Oval Office. The 300-page will be delivered to Congress afterward, as is required 10 days after the release of the federal budget. The annual report lays out the economic challenges that the country faces, what actions have been taken in the previous year to deal with those challenges, and presents the president’s economic agenda going forward.”

Get your charts ready: “The United States is likely to average 95,000 more jobs each month this year, while personal savings will remain high as credit remains tight, according to a White House report released Thursday,” per the AP’s Philip Elliott . “The Council of Economic Advisers also trumpeted the $787 billion economic stimulus package, which it said has saved or created about 2 million jobs.”

Karl Rove wants an end to gimmickry around the health care summit: “Republican leaders should accept the invitation. The country rightly expects them to, even though it's a made-for-TV kabuki drama written, staged and directed by Mr. Obama,” Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “It is also in the GOP's best interests. This is the party's best opportunity yet to contrast its good ideas with Democratic legislation.”

A partnership -- from a man who was almost a partner? Politico’s David Rogers, on Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H .: “Gregg’s restless energy is drawing him back into the fray, and the New Hampshire conservative brings both a proven ability to swing Republican votes and a background in health care and deficit issues.”

Said Gregg: “I’m not on their reach-out list, so nothing may come of this. ... But I’m ready to sit down and try to be helpful.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sounds off on Senate rules : “A constitutional majority is 51 votes,” she tells Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis. “It’s up to us to make sure the public knows that this is not extraordinary. And the public knows that a constitutional majority is 51. It would be a reflection on us if we could not convince people that this is not an unusual place to go.”

Best weather story you’ll read this week: “In a town where everything takes on political freight, this week's historic snows have dumped a shovelful of mixed metaphors on the federal government,” Elizabeth Williamson and Neil King Jr. report in The Wall Street Journal.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.: “We're not gonna be blamed for this one.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: “A few feet of snow have got nothing on Senate Republicans' ability to paralyze Washington with their blizzard of filibusters and procedural gimmicks.”

Not getting much done on the Hill -- but talking jobs in the Senate: “Senate Democratic leaders ended Wednesday still planning to plow ahead with a session on Thursday despite a blizzard blanketing the Washington area,” The Hill’s J. Taylor Rushing reports . “No votes are scheduled on Thursday, but Democrats still plan to hold their weekly caucus lunch, which was rescheduled from Tuesday.”

New in the party wars: the DNC is going on the attack over RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s line that “after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money.” A new Website is launching with a calculator, so you can figure out how long before you’re a millionaire.

From the letter being sent Thursday by DNC Chairman Tim Kaine: “Republicans are going all out to be seen as defenders of the ‘little guy’ this election season. But Chairman Steele's comment last week made it clear they're not. We need to make sure every American hears about it.”

New fodder: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., gives the third rail a big embrace, saying over the weekend that government should “wean everybody off” Social Security, Jason Hoppin reports in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Said Bachmann: “What you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don't have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off, because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can't do it.”

Time to sell some books (if he can write fast): “US Senator Scott Brown has already done most things required of a rising political star. Interview with Barbara Walters (check). Jay Leno appearance (check). ‘Saturday Night Live’ satirization (check). And perhaps someday soon, the Scott Brown story in hardcover,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports .

“Brown has hired Williams & Connolly's Bob Barnett, the city's leading counsel to politician-authors, to help him through the process,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports .

Snow or no snow -- Al Gore’s group plays some offense: “Al Gore’s climate advocacy group is launching new TV ads that pressure Senate centrists from Indiana, Missouri, Maine and Arkansas to support comprehensive energy and climate change legislation,” The Hill’s Ben German reports . “The ads by Repower America – which is part of Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection – show residents from the states touting the benefits of “clean energy” and calling on their senators to get on board.”

Did immigration reform have an impact, without even a bill? “A new report that the nation's illegal immigrant population has declined by nearly 1 million has sharpened the debate over whether to legalize those remaining or allow their numbers to shrink through attrition,” Teresa Watanabe reports in the Los Angeles Times. “The number of illegal immigrants living in the United States dropped to 10.8 million in 2009 from 11.6 million in 2008, marking the second consecutive year of decline and the sharpest decrease in at least three decades, according to a report this week by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

On Thursday’s schedule: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., delivers his eighth final “state of the state” address as governor. Watch it live HERE .

Might a new, new Mitt Romney essentially skip the South? “From the looks of it, the 2012 version of Romney will be somewhat different than the one that lost in 2008,” the Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein writes . “In that campaign, Romney tacked hard to the right — where Romney and his strategists perceived an opening as the conservative alternative to front-runners John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. ... Notably, Romney's PAC has started ignoring Southern pols. It contributed to not a single politician in Florida or Georgia last year, where it showered more than $30,000 over the previous four years.”

The Kicker:

“Today I am laying down the gauntlet.” -- Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich , D-Ill., demanding full release of tapes where he says “I’ve got this thing and it’s f---ing golden.”

“On daily show was wrong re: ShoeBomber citizenship, was thinking of Padilla. Treating terrorists like criminals wrong no matter who is Pres.” -- Newt Gingrich, on Twitter , correcting himself (sort of).

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/

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