While they might have the same number of X chromosomes, by most conventional and traditional standards are both very attractive women, and live in very small towns, these qualities are where any similarities between State Senator Barbara Buono, the presumptive 2013 Democratic nominee for Governor of the State of New Jersey, and Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate, begin and end. Buono is one of the most liberal members of the New Jersey state legislature and Palin is one of the most conservative people ever to run for and hold elected office. Buono is a highly articulate and intelligent person with a law degree from Rutgers University and Palin struggles to find reading material that she can comprehend and barely graduated college after matriculating in an out of many of them.
While Palin’s capacity to learn anything of consequence is unclear, she is still a force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party, even as it is currently going through a period of soul searching in an attempt to reconcile the ferocity and power of its ever-growing arch-conservative base and its ability to dominate primary elections with its inability to produce enough general election victories except in gerrymandered congressional districts to govern, and coming on the heels of the recent severance of her relationship with Fox News, there is much that she could learn from Buono if she has any designs and desires on assuming a leadership role within the Tea Party movement and becoming the standard-bearer and Presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2016.
Earlier this summer, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was a larger than life presence at the Democratic National Convention both on the national stage and within the New Jersey delegation and from that point forward until he announced at the end of December that he was going to run for the United States Senate in 2014, it was believed that he was the best and only hope of the New Jersey Democratic Party against the state’s incumbent Governor, Chris Christie, especially after Christie’s governance during and after Hurricane Sandy has given him, correctly or otherwise, near-legend status, and many if not most of the “experts” and pundits who observe the blood sport known as New Jersey politics expected (why I do not know) that he would be the Democratic nominee this November.
Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to Booker’s uncontested primary election victory this June. Buono, who was in Charlotte for the DNC last summer, but spent most of it on the outside looking in as a result of her fall from the graces of the Democratic establishment after the 2011 legislative elections and her replacement as Senate Majority Leader following a failed coup that she and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan tried to engineer, because of deep divisions within the Democratic legislative caucuses over compromises on a variety of issues that the leadership made with Governor Christie, which progressive legislators like Buono, Cryan, and others believed were a betrayal of Democratic Party values, decided that she was not going to wait for Booker to announce his decision or the party bosses to give her the Democratic nomination, and instead announced that she would be running for Governor regardless of what Booker or anybody else was going to do.
It is unlikely that Buono’s decision to be the first candidate to announce a 2013 gubernatorial run had any impact on Booker’s decision-making, because it is highly unlikely that he was ever going to risk his long-term political ambitions by running against an incumbent Governor who was already popular, albeit for questionable reasons, before Hurricane Sandy and became even moreso afterwards. Had Booker lost to Christie this November, his only option would have been to run for re-election in 2014 in a city where his popularity and number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers is far less than it is statewide and nationwide, where the internet, mass media, and social media tell a much different story than his beleaguered and disappointed constituents.
Instead, Booker is going to run for a Senate seat that may or may not be defended by the incumbent, Frank Lautenberg. If Lautenberg does not run for re-election, it is possible that Congressman Frank Pallone might run against Booker, but if he does, then he cannot run for re-election to a congressional seat that he could likely serve in for the rest of his life if he so chooses, making it less than a 50/50 bet that he takes on Booker. Regardless of whether Booker is uncontested in the June 2014 primary election or not, his odds of victory in that race and in the November general election against what is likely to be very weak Republican opposition unless a recently re-elected Governor Christie decides to run for Senate as a preliminary to running for President in 2016, which is such a far-fetched notion as to most likely be outside the realm of possibility, are so high that this was the only decision that someone who is willing to run into a burning building to save an elderly constituent and tweet about it in real time, but is otherwise politically risk-averse, could possibly have made.
However, the fact that they would have had no choice but to run against and defeat Buono in a fiercely contested primary election before having the chance to face Christie in what would most likely have been a bloodbath of a general election, led all other prospective gubernatorial contenders Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, State Senator Richard Codey, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski to pass on running this year. To be fair, Codey, Sweeney, and Wisniewski had a tough choice to make between running for re-election and running for Governor, but neither Bollwage nor Pascrell had anything to lose by running.
That said, the nature of politics in New Jersey, particularly in the Democratic Party, ruled by political machines, which makes contested primary elections a rare event in the state, probably had a major impact on their decision-making process. The lack of contested primary elections in the state provides an insufficient amount of data for their advisors and consultants to determine their chances in a run against Buono and without enough information at their disposal to formulate an intelligent decision, like most New Jersey politicians, they erred on the side of caution. The obvious exception to this being Buono, who took a huge, but very smart, risk in making her announcement before Booker made his, and as a result is going to be the Democratic nominee this fall. And this is the lesson that Palin must learn if she wants to be the Republican Presidential nominee in 2016.
Despite reportage of the severance of her relationship with Fox News being framed as the end of both the Sarah Palin and Tea Party movement era of Republican Party politics, anyone with any understanding of the Republican Party primary election voter universe knows that the opposite is more likely true. Anyone looking ahead to the 2014 midterm elections knows that the Tea Party is going to be a major force, taking on establishment Republican incumbents and contenders for Congressional and Senate seats currently held by Democrats in Republican-leaning districts and states. Even if Tea Party candidates implode in general election races, costing the Republican Party control over both the House and the Senate, it is still more likely than not that the Republican Party’s Presidential nominee is going to be a Tea Party-backed candidate.
Regardless of the outcome of this November’s gubernatorial election in New Jersey, there are likely to be several Republican Presidential candidates trying to frame themselves as “electable” in a general election even if they refrain from using the forbidden “M” word. After Chris Christie, who may or may not still be a viable national candidate after this year’s gubernatorial election, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is at the top of most Republican establishment wish lists. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has also put himself on the map of late by calling for the GOP to “stop being the stupid party” and become a “new Republican Party that talks like adults”. If he decides to run for President in 2016 instead of running for re-election to his congressional seat, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is most likely going to try to appease both establishment Republicans as well as movement conservatives and as a result will most likely fail at appealling to either, making a Presidential run less likely than more.
Like Ryan, the most popular prospective 2016 Presidential candidates from the perspective of the Tea Party movement, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, will have to choose between running for President and running for re-election. In the same way that Buono’s decision to announce her candidacy ahead of the pack ultimately made Codey’s, Sweeney’s, and Wisniewski’s decision much easier, Palin can do the same to Paul and Rubio by announcing her intent to run for President first and attracting much, if not most, if not all of the Tea Party movement’s ranks quickly and decisively.
While it is possible that she could be joined in the race by other Tea Party favorites like Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, both will have to survive tough re-election campaigns in 2014 and may have to moderate themselves sufficiently between now and then to win these races and lose Tea Party support in the process. Another prospective Tea Party-backed Presidential candidate, Virginia Governor Bob O’Donnell, probably alienated far too many movement conservatives when he backed away from efforts to force women who seek abortions to be subjected to transvaginal ultrasounds and change how the state awards its Electoral College votes.
Mitt Romney was able to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012, because the Tea Party movement allowed itself to be divided amongst several candidates, while Romney enjoyed the unwavering support of the Republican Party establishment and the ever-decreasing percentage of its primary election voter universe that it represents. Governor Jindal’s commentary to the contrary, it is unlikely that movement conservatives are stupid enough to allow this to happen again. Thus, even if Bush has the full support of the Republican establishment, which is unlikely, regardless of whether Christie survives his matchup this November with Buono or not, as Jindal and others will probably have their own base of support, Palin will still be able to beat him in the primary election if she is able to unite the 2/3 of the primary election voter universe that identifies itself with the Tea Party movement.
However, the only way that Sarah Palin will be able to do this is to learn from Barbara Buono’s example and be aggressive and bold and announce her candidacy as early as possible, exciting movement conservatives and scaring away much, if not most, if not all of her potential competition.