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Sarah Palin Aims to Bust Up the Republican Party

Sarah Palin just finished the Q&A portion of her appearance at the Tea Party Nation Convention, which was far more interesting than the speech that preceded it. (I'll address that in a later post.) Answering a question submitted through the Tea Party Nation Web site, Palin noted with enthusiasm that many Tea Party activists are not registered Republicans -- just like the former first dude of Alaska. "My husband -- he's not a registered Republican. He's probably more conservative than I am, " she told the convention. Indeed, Todd Palin, for seven years was a member of the secessionist Alaska Independence Party, which is the Alaska chapter of the theocratic Constitution Party founded by Howard Phillips, one of the architects of the religious right. TP's membership in AIP created a bit of a problem for the McCain presidential campaign, and within the campaign, according to campaign aide Steve Schmidt, who had to battle Palin to keep her from denying that fact, which was easily verifiable by any enterprising reporter. Todd Palin left the party before his wife hit the campaign trail as McCain's running-mate, but maintained his independent voting status. (Todd Palin made news again this week, when an investigation by NBC News revealed e-mails that showed him deeply involved in the governance of the State of Alaska during his wife's truncated term as governor.) Sarah Palin told the Tea Partiers that she supposed she owed an apology to the Republican Party for not being able to persuade her husband to join. Yet she spent the early part of her speech lauding the victory of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who won his seat with a lot of out-of-state help from Tea Partiers. During her question-time at the convention -- she only took questions submitted in advance through the convention Web site -- Sarah Palin no doubt pleased the theocrats of her husband's former party when she would like to see leaders who were willing to "seek[ ] some divine intervention in this country" -- someone who wouldn't fear what the media would report when they "proclaim their dependence on our creator." In her speech and during her question-and-answer session, Palin applauded the primary challenges that some Tea Party activists are launching for contested congressional and Senate seats in the 2010 election. "Contested primaries aren't civil war," she said in her speech. "They're democracy, and that's beautiful." She hinted that she may campaign for some of those challengers. (In Arizona, however, she has angered some Tea Party activists by backing the candidacy of her former running mate instead of the Tea Party-backed challenger to Sen. McCain, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.) Yet for all cheerleading of the Tea Partiers, Palin seems just as poised to bust up their movement, and encouraged some light demolition within the Democratic Party, as well. Despite strongly articulated qualms by some movement activists that the GOP was co-opting their movement, Palin told the audience that "the Republican Party woudl be really smart to start absorbing as much of the Tea Party movement as possible." Of the Democrats, she said, "It's pretty cool to see some of these Blue Dog Democrats peekin' under the [Tea Party] tent." It's tempting for progressives to dismiss Palin as a lightweight based on her well-demonstrated ignorance of -- well, a whole lot of things. But that doesn't mean she's not clever. That doesn't mean she's not up to something. What Palin appears to be doing is adopting the old Howard Phillips strategy of sowing discord in all camps, in order to pick up the shards left behind, and build something of them. Sarah Palin will never win a majority of America's votes, should she run for president. But she's probably betting that she could win a plurality if the major parties and the Tea Party movement are divided. At one point, her interviewer said, "I can think of two words that scare liberals: 'President Palin'." With that, the crowd broke into a spontaneous chant: "Run, Sarah, run!"