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The (Political) Rules

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"The Rules" urged women trying to hook a man to play "hard to get." As insulting, dehumanizing and childish as the rules might have been (for instance, say no if he doesn't call by Wednesday for the weekend), there's plenty of anecdotal evidence (not to mention the sales figures for the book) suggesting they work.

But who knew how well it would work in politics?

Mitt Romney is running for president. Most polls show him to be the frontrunner on the Republican side. But is the media standing in line to interview him? Was he all over television, newspapers and the Internet on Memorial Day weekend? He was certainly out there attacking Barack Obama full force. He was available for interviews. He got a story here and there.

But the Republican who dominated this Memorial Day weekend, the Republican who had the press clamoring for more access and complaining about who got it, was not Romney or Newt Gingrich or Tim Pawlenty or any of the guys who have made clear that they aim to run for president. It was the woman who's not running, the one who is still on the Fox payroll, the one the media dislike so much that they can't pull themselves away.

Sarah Palin is on her bus. She is making waves and commanding attention. Everybody is mad at Greta van Susteren because she was the only network correspondent to get the biggest "get" of the weekend. Greta's answer made me laugh: Palin talked to Greta because she works for Fox. (Full disclosure: So do I.) Greta can't interview Dr. Sanjay Gupta or Donna Brazile, so why should any other network get to interview Palin?

The only difference is that Palin might be a candidate for president, whereas Gupta and Brazile aren't. There are other doctors and other strategists, but there's only one Sarah Palin. Is she a candidate? A Fox employee? A rock star?
 

This is based on absolutely no inside information. Palin certainly doesn't check in with me about her plans. But I'd put money on this one: Sarah Palin is not running for president. But boy is she having some fun at the expense of those who are.

It's no secret that Fox is, rightly, ending contributor agreements with prospective candidates. That's why Mike Huckabee had to decide between the race and his show, and why Gingrich no longer receives a paycheck from Fox. This means, to me at least, that either Palin is lying to our friends at Fox, or she really isn't running. Since it would be beyond stupid to lie to the folks at the network that both supporters and detractors would agree is the most watched source for Republican primary coverage, conversation and debate, I don't think she's lying to Fox. I don't think she's lying to anyone.

The media want Palin. It's as simple as that. They don't want her because they would vote for her; they don't want her because they think she has something to say that no one else is saying. You want substance? Ask Newt or Mitt. Palin has something else: sizzle.

During the 2004 Democratic primaries, all attention to the actual candidates would evaporate the minute Bill or Hillary Clinton so much as tiptoed into the room. That's what is happening here. Palin is sucking all the oxygen out of the Republican tent.

That's good for her, and it should be great for Greta and for Fox's ratings. It's even good news for Obama, who could not find a better counterpoint to his talents than Palin. The only people suffering are the other Republican candidates, one of whom is likely to face Obama in the fall after facing both real and shadow candidates to get there.
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