Issues & Insights

Fair Warning, Uncle Joe: Stacey Abrams Is The New Sarah Palin

No-o-o-o-o, Uncle Joe!

Don’t do it.

Look, man, we know your stumbling, bumbling campaign and slight hint (ahem) of cognitive decline may be occasioning a bit of an enthusiasm gap.

And sure: the old crisis communications standby is “change the subject” – “Wag the Dog,” and all that. Indeed, you’re in a doozy of a pickle: you, and every woman politician panting after the #2 slot, are hoist by your own hot pink petards.

As the Human Octopus with females within range, you of all people should have figured the mindless “Believe Every Woman” sexual assault standard would come back to bite you. When Mika Brzezinski puts the cattle prod to your progressive hide, this brouhaha clearly isn’t just gonna fade into the sunset along with your faculties.

Still, don’t succumb to the same temptation as a previous stalled senior nominee, John McCain: “throwing long” by elevating an incandescent, but youthful and untested, talent. To paraphrase a crowd-pleaser from his surprise choice: “How’d that work out for him?”

Answer: not so hot at all for Commander Mac, and almost certainly not for you, either – if you launch into the same risk-fraught trajectory with gifted current progressive icon and cause célèbre Stacey Abrams as he did in selecting erstwhile right-wing fave Sarah Palin.

Yes, Ms. Abrams brings more to the table than did the former beauty queen, sports reporter and (very) small-town mayor with less than two years as governor under her belt. The Georgian boasts – wow – a Masters in Public Affairs, a  Yale law degree, experience as an entrepreneur and tax attorney at a bigtime firm, and six years as state House minority leader.

Yet no more seasoning on a national stage. And Dude, even beyond that, the parallels – promising and perilous – couldn’t be more glaring if phosphorescent breadcrumbs were strewn from Delaware to Milwaukee.

Both women are supernovas possessed of transcendent, multidisciplinary communications skills. It was barely surprising to see The Thrilla from Wasilla unveiled as the rappin’ “Bear” on “The Masked Singer.” Or to learn that Ms. Abrams is also an award-winning romance novelist.

Supernovas shine bright – for a time. Sarah Barracuda supplied an instant jolt to Mac’s flatlining campaign. Supercharging contributions and poll numbers. Injecting colorful catch phrases (“thanks but no thanks,” “pit bull with lipstick”) into the political lexicon. And briefly knocking the Obamites off-center. No doubt Ms. Abrams could do the same for you – at first.

But exploding stars also collapse rapidly – blowing up lots of stuff en route. No need to recount how the overconfident yet catastrophically unprepared Ms. Palin’s flailing misadventures with the media, campaign staff and Tina Fey soon dragged the Commander’s airship down with her.

Because alongside brilliant Palin/Abrams-type talents come qualities – as this commentator once observed of the former – of being “impulsive. Erratic. Mercurial. And prone to major misjudgment.”

Some shared clues? Start with life-management challenges. Even during the 2008 convention, we learned Guv Sarah’s unmarried daughter Bristol was expecting. With a planned wedding falling through after months of intensely public, reality show-worthy inter-family feuding. Followed by years of additional headlines signaling further household breakdown and eventually, breakup.

Ms. Abrams, incredibly, launched an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign while laden down with nearly a cool quarter mill in debt and back taxes – which she labored to pawn off as a point of identification with everyday voters. But voters want proven problem-solving, not personal excuses that offer a flashing red warning light as to possible self-control issues in public life.

Which relates to another common trait: insisting on traversing unbeaten (for good reason) paths. Ms. Palin’s mega-selling memoir outright bragged about “Going Rogue” on Mac’s handlers. Her wake was littered with initially smitten but ultimately disillusioned one-time advisors.

Ms. Abrams? She’s taking her own personal detour – skipping the orthodox stepping stones of Senate race or gubernatorial rematch for an open, uncommonly nervy and colossally ill-advised veepstakes campaign. Lobbying party leaders and brimming with certainty of being “an excellent running mate,” she’s poured on the pressure by asserting it would be a “concern” if you bypassed a woman of color (hint, hint).

And thereby, per reports, greatly irritated your team. Just consider having to ask her to rein in it once she’s on the inside.

Then, pray tell, what follows when all that personal mismanagement and reckless egotism produces a belly-flop? The blame game.

In Palin’s case, the “lamestream media,” legislative recalcitrance, Levi the boyfriend and loopy ethics laws.

Ms. Abrams? Along with family issues, she pinned her financial challenges on two golden oldies: “race and gender.”

As for her gubernatorial loss? “Tainted.” A “disenfranchisement of thousands of voters.” “Not a free and fair election.”

And providing a rather telling window into her worldview cum psyche: “We don’t know what really happened because of the miasma of voter suppression. There’s something about uncertainty that’s worse than knowing you just suck.”

Expect more of the same if you don’t pick this “woman of color.”

Damned if you don’t – but doubly damned if you do. Not a comfortable choice – but especially looking back on the sad experience of your longtime Senate colleague, an easy one.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

9 comments

  • You compare an honest conservative woman to an utterly racist, dishonest stooge who still thinks she’s governor of Georgia? I’m not surprised at hearing this from this writer. Palin was instantly mocked, attacked, misquoted, and pilloried in the national press. Abrams is lauded for being an outright racist. Your TDS is showing again.

    • With all due respect: show me 1. where I’ve ever been guilty of Trump Derangement Syndrome and 2. how that relates to Sarah Palin.

  • Palin’s naïveté and missteps made her easy fodder for a biased, unprofessional press corps who would’ve savaged any nominee. Abrams got a pass when she ran in Georgia, and her egotistic bravado suggests she believes the press will love her. She’s right. Plus she will draw attention and scrutiny away from doddering Joe. The worst part of her act — the race and gender grievances — will be repugnant to an electorate who elected a black man president…twice. But other than that, and the fact that she was spectacularly unqualified to be governor of Georgia, let alone the US, the calculation that she’ll be a media darling has to appeal to the Biden bunch.

    • It would be a disastrous mistake. She will be stepping in it from day one. Plus who knows what time bombs are in her various business ventures, or how she managed to pay off $220K+ in debt within a year after her race for Governor? Or other personal issues have yet to be raised?

  • This article sets out comparison history quite well. I would only add that Abrams is also a whiner, complainer, sore loser and does not play well with others. I believe concrete millstone around Biden’s already stretched to the limit neck would be an apt simile. I am a registered (Kennedy, Jack) Democrat but have found little to be enthusiastic about this century. Nothing so far this year has caused me to change that observation.

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