Before the NFL playoff games this weekend, a friend drew a fascinating comparison between the personalities of two of the competing football coaches and two Republican presidential hopefuls.
Sarah Palin and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan are big personalities. They are visible, fired up and energetic.
By comparison Mitch Daniels and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick are thoughtful yet intense. You might pass them on the street without knowing it.
In many ways, Daniels’ resume is exactly what Republicans are looking for in their 2012 presidential candidate. He is highly intelligent, politically tested and not overtly ideological. He has strong conservative credentials but appeals to independents and even Democrats. Like Belichick, he can point to a track record of success.
As America limps through Barack Obama’s damaging term, it is noteworthy that Daniels has demonstrated formidable economic skills as Indiana’s Governor. In his six years leading the long-time Democratic state, George W. Bush’s former Director of the Office of Management and Budget has transformed it from being debt-ridden and unattractive for new businesses into an engine of growth that for the first time ever boasts a triple A credit rating.
Daniels has demonstrated his electability in Indiana but questions remain whether he has the sort of personality that will galvanize the imaginations of followers across the nation. The Republican nominee will be facing a charismatic incumbent with unrivaled speaking skills. Daniels can beat Obama hands down on substance, but could he succeed in winning the hearts of voters?
Sarah Palin, meanwhile, has been busy addressing her political shortcomings. She wisely freed herself from her gubernatorial responsibilities soon after the last general election, became more media savvy with her involvement on the Fox News Channel, established a wealth base by writing two bestselling books, began to recast her image with her TLC show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and has used the social media to build her political base. Significantly, she has become a conservative mouthpiece on all major issues and is seen as a leader of the tea party.
What Palin still appears to lack is acceptance by America’s ruling class, including within the Republican Party. She has begun to address the perceived intellectual gap by writing a commentary piece and letter in the Wall Street Journal, but bigger steps will be needed. Palin still has high unfavorability ratings and the Republican machine needs to believe that she is capable of debating and defeating liberals on substance. Before Margaret Thatcher became British prime minister, Gordon Reece changed the way she spoke. Might we see Sarah Palin’s folksy style disappear too?
Rex Ryan’s victory over Belichick on Sunday was something of a surprise, especially after the 45-3 beating that the Patriots had handed the Jets at the same venue just a few weeks earlier. In politics, too, it can be difficult to pick a winner. The Republican field for 2012 is wide open but neither Palin nor Daniels should be underestimated.