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What Palin Can Teach Obama About Seizing the Moment What Palin Can Teach Obama About Seizing the Moment What Palin Can Teach Obama About Seizing the Moment What Palin Can Teach Obam...

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Magazine / COMMON SENSE

What Palin Can Teach Obama About Seizing the Moment

The president could learn from her well-honed habit of following her gut instincts.

photo of Matthew  Dowd
May 17, 2012

Life is really about the moments and whether we’re ready to take advantage of them. We can meet someone and have a wonderful connection, then back off because of fear or preexisting plans and hope another moment comes along. But many times, when that moment or person is gone, we never have the opportunity again. The same holds true in politics.

During the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, I have seen two of those "moment" opportunities having surfaced. President Obama and his campaign bypassed one key moment, while Sarah Palin took advantage of the other. It kind of shows the difference between a politician and campaign that makes decisions tethered to a logical plan, and someone who makes decisions based on her gut and from her heart. Obama makes fewer mistakes than Palin, but he also misses some key moments along the way. 

I have at times questioned Palin’s qualifications, knowledge, and discipline, as well as her desire to be a celebrity more than a leader, but she has an intuitive feel for politics. She knows how to make gut decisions -- and at times these have definitely paid off for her. They certainly did in her involvement in the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in Nebraska.

 

Palin decided to engage on behalf of the dark-horse GOP candidate, Deb Fischer, who was running a very lean campaign against her better-known opponents, state Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Fischer was being outspent more than 10-to-1 and was well behind in the polls. Palin endorsed her and advocated on behalf of Fischer’s candidacy in the campaign’s final days, and Fischer pulled off a stunning upset. Was it all because of Palin?  No, but she was an important one reason. 

Many folks criticize Palin for the fact that her history of helping candidates has succeeded only about half the time. In my view, this is an incredible record, since she almost always backs underdogs and candidates with seemingly no chance of success. Palin does this because she makes decisions from the gut. Yes, she makes mistakes, but she also knows how to take advantage of a moment when it presents itself.

And so let’s look at another moment where a candidate and his campaign missed a real opportunity. I wrote this a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again: Obama’s campaign, starting in mid-April, had a real opportunity to frame this race and keep Mitt Romney from rising or getting up off the mat. They let it pass.

If Obama ends up losing in November, I would argue that one of the key reasons is that he could have defined Romney in this period from mid-April to the end of May, and didn’t. He missed this moment when his campaign had a huge spending advantage, and could have used that to overwhelm Romney with advertising that defined this race. Now the Obama campaign will lose that huge advantage as Romney raises money and begins catching up. It’s much better to outspend someone 5-to-1 than it is to wait and outspend them 1.5-to-1.

As each day becomes more of a “he said/he said” effort, the race has become virtually tied. Romney has also had the opportunity to rehabilitate his image and come back from the bruising he took during the Republican primary campaign. In sports, how many times have we seen a team that is ahead employ a run-out-the-clock strategy, only to lose in the final minutes? Obama should have kept the full-court press on while the opposing team was weary. He let that moment go, and now Romney’s campaign has gotten a second wind.

Life really is about going with your heart and having your head figure out logistics afterward. That’s true whether it means jumping into a moment with someone else, or in the midst of a tight presidential race where every day matters. 

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