When Sarah Palin announced last week that she was not running for president, many wondered, what had she been trying to do during the last three years, when she seemed to be almost a candidate? Now we know: she was trying to make money.
That answer was suggested by Levi Johnston—the young man from Wasilla who got Bristol pregnant, and then wrote a memoir of his life with the Palins after the 2008 election. In the book, Johnston recalled the day in July 2009 when Palin resigned as governor—apparently to spend full-time running for president. That wasn’t the way young Levi saw it. He remembered her saying “I hate this job.… I could be making money instead.”
And that’s what she proceeded to do—all the while tweeting hints that she was about to enter the 2012 race. Ask an Alaskan: for example, Donald Craig Mitchell—he’s an attorney in Anchorage and a long-time Palin-watcher; he wrote about her money-making for the Los Angeles Times op-ed page on Sunday. Shortly before she quit the race, he reminds us, Palin signed a book deal reported to be worth $11 million. As soon as she quit, she “signed with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which quickly got her more than $100,000 for a ninety-minute speech.” Four months after that, she signed a seven-figure contract with Fox News to work as a commentator. And two months after that, she signed another seven-figure contract to star in her own reality TV show, the unforgettable Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
Since quitting the governor’s job, Mitchell concludes, “Palin has spent most of her time promoting books, making paid television appearances and giving paid speeches”—in other words, making money.
She was doing one other thing during those years: hinting about running for president. Her will-she-or-won’t-she act provided steady work for a hundred pundits. It also helped sell books and win TV viewers and fill lecture halls with people who thought maybe they were seeing the next president of the United States.
Of course that was never a possibility. The week before the 2008 election, the New York Times poll found that 59 percent of voters said she was not qualified to be vice president. This time around, 72 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said she should not be a candidate. But that still left 28 percent who wanted her to run, and they are the people Palin kept on the hook for the last three years, while she sold them books and got them to watch her TV shows.
It’s hardly surprising that a Republican who believes in tax cuts for the rich would want to get rich herself. In fact it’s surprising that more Republican candidates don’t make the same move she did—use their candidacies as a way to bring in some real money. Of course, Mitt Romney already has $250 million, according to MSNBC—so he has the opposite problem: what can he do with all that money? Might as well run for president.
But Rick Perry started out more like Palin. He began his working life as a door-to-door salesman in West Texas, then made $1 million while holding elective office. He did it with what the Austin Statesman-American carefully calls “controversial land deals.”
But $1 million is not much compared to Palin’s book deal or her TV contract. Of course Perry tried going the book route, with his 2010 volume Fed Up! That’s where he calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” Somehow that didn’t move many potential readers to shell out $21.99 for the book—an Amazon.com seller is now listing new copies for $4.99. Palin’s Going Rogue, in contrast,entered the New York Times best-seller list at number one and stayed there for six weeks, eventually selling more than two million copies. (Meanwhile the book’s evil twin, Going Rouge, edited by The Nation’s Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, won enthusiastic praise from critics—including Naomi Klein, who wrote “accept no imitations!”)
Fox News made it clear that bona fide candidates could not be paid commentators on the network—they ended the contracts of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum when each entered the race. So Palin had to decide, and no one should have been surprised that she went for the money.