When Sarah Palin burst on the national political scene in 2008, her star power was blinding to both her fans and detractors. Love her or hate her, the Alaska governor tapped by Senator John McCain to be his running mate became an instant celebrity. The GOP ticket’s loss that November seemed not to affect her popularity. Palin’s public appearances continued to draw enormous crowds, and her sometimes dubious political comments invariably were treated as news. When she joined Fox News in 2010 as a commentator at a salary of $1 million a year, her future in the limelight seemed limitless.
But every nova eventually fades, and Palin is no exception. Last week brought word that she and Fox would not be renewing their contract — the network had offered only a fraction of that seven-figure salary, Newsweek’s Howard Kurtz reported, and the two sides agreed to go their separate ways.
The writing was already on the wall for Palin as a cultural phenomenon once it became clear she wouldn’t run for president in 2012. As an important figure on the right, she has been supplanted by rising Republican stars. Her charisma has never been in doubt, but it wasn’t charisma alone that attracted those huge conservative audiences. It was also the belief that Palin had a fresh and compelling political message. That belief grew fainter with time, as Palin showed little interest in substantive debate.
Since President Obama’s reelection, the GOP has been engaged in a public conversation about its future. Some of the most intelligent voices in that conversation belong to conservative officeholders whom relatively few Americans had heard of at the height of Palin’s popularity — men and women like Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Nikki Haley. As media celebrities they may never achieve Palin’s dominance. But when it comes to political substance, they have already surpassed her.