The Republican criticism of Palin, 45, began during McCain's presidential run, privately at first, then breaking into the open during the last troubled days of the Arizona senator's campaign. Finger-pointing and back-stabbing are hardly unusual in politics, especially on the losing side. But like so many things Palin-related -- the crowds, the adoration, the antipathy -- the verbal strafing seems of a whole other magnitude. (How many other losing vice presidential candidates would merit a 10,000-word exegesis in Vanity Fair, which depicted Alaska's governor as a narcissistic, one-woman demolition derby?)
Some blame sexism, though again there is sharp disagreement between Palin's supporters and detractors. Some think the former beauty queen has always been hurt by her looks, whereas others think her appearance has helped her considerably. "If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?" Murphy asked.
Others see a knee-jerk reaction from the political establishment, which will always frown on any populist outsider (think Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean), much less a governor who quits midterm and shows up on TV in hip waders.
"The fact that she is a woman who's extremely attractive and dynamic and charismatic throws them for a loop," said Bay Buchanan, who strategized for her brother's two insurgent presidential campaigns. "Once they sense the first little sign of weakness, that's when they go in for the kill."
No one knows where the future will take Palin, not even the governor herself. Her reemergence on the national scene and the scathing response from so many of her party peers underscore one thing, however: Republicans may hold dear their memories of the late Ronald Reagan. But his famous 11th commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" -- was laid to rest a long time ago.
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What they're saying
Strategist Ed Rollins
"The reality here is her biggest mistake is walking away from the job as governor. She would have at least had a record to run on. She is going to have a partial record today that's going to be very incomplete. I found her very insulting to other governors."
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner
"I like her a lot. But I think it will be very difficult for her to run in 2012 given everything's that's gone on in the last nine months."
Strategist Mike Murphy
"She lacks any real accomplishment -- no military or private-sector career of note, no academic achievement beyond a frenetic bounce between five colleges, including a sun 'n' surf-oriented outfit in Hawaii."
Consultant Ron Bonjean
"Gov. Palin can now run for president without playing the balancing act of keeping Alaskan voters happy. While she has a core following, many Republicans are getting tired of the constant drama that surrounds her family."
Former White House strategist Karl Rove
"Effective strategies in politics are ones that are so clear and obvious that people can grasp. It's not clear what she's doing and why." She is "putting herself on a national stage that she might not be quite ready to operate on."
Consultant Stuart Roy
"If this is geared for her run for the presidency in 2012, it is one of the most politically tone-deaf decisions that we've seen."
Strategist John Weaver
"I'm not smart enough to see the strategy in this. Good point guards don't quit and walk off the court."