MITT ROMNEY has a Sarah Palin problem. It says something about how boring the Republican nominee's presidential campaign slog has already become that it has taken no more than an off-stage growl from the Mama Grizzly for her to steal the limelight.
Whatever else Palin may be, she is not boring.
All she had to do was tell Newsweek magazine writer Peter Boyer that she had not received an invitation to attend next month's Republican Party Convention in Tampa, Florida, which will formally anoint Romney as candidate, and she becomes the issue of the day.
Palin is as good at the political ambush as anyone, but it seems that in this case she did not initiate the drama. Instead, she simply answered an emailed question from the Grizzly lair in Alaska.
"Queries to the Romney camp about any possible Palin role at the convention meet with stony silence," writes Boyer. "Palin does not seem surprised. 'What can I say?' she responded when asked by Newsweek about the convention. 'I'm sure I'm not the only one accepting consequences for calling out both sides of the aisle for spending too much money, putting us on the road to bankruptcy, and engaging in crony capitalism.'"
Touché. Boyer called the failure to invite Palin, who rocketed to fame four years ago at the Republican convention which nominated John McCain and where she became his vice-president, as a "snub".
He is surely right. There are a host of reasons why Romney does not want Palin at his party. In the political High School Prom, these two don't "date".
Romney knows his soullessness is shown up any time the vibrant Grizzly gets into the same shot. One of them has charisma, and it is not Romney.
His campaign runs like a nuclear submarine on radio silence, every word scripted and journos not welcome, while Palin goes with the impulse and cannot be trusted not to "go rogue".
Most of all, however, he dreads her power to ignite the "base", which belongs to the Tea Party. A vintage Palin performance in Tampa would strip away all the bondo the Republican Party has been trying to slap over its cracks.
On one side of the divide are the working class American conservatives so cleverly brought in to vote against their own interests for the Right on the "wedge issues" of abortion, gays and so on. On the other are the bankers and corporate toffs, those whom Palin now accuses of "crony capitalism". She could be campaigning for France's President Hollande, or Occupy Wall Street. Tampa as ground zero in the emerging class war is not what Romney's managers have in mind.
But his plan to ignore her has failed. The script calls for focus on who he will be choosing as his 'veep' to pop out of the cake at the Florida party. But now it is all about the 'veep' choice of the last Republican to be beaten by President Obama, McCain.
Romney thought this was a good moment to explain to Politico that tax irregularities uncovered in the vetting process had not been the reason McCain passed on Romney for his choice. It was simply that Palin had been a "better candidate".
How is Romney going to get out of this one? First, a diversionary rumour: the New York Post reports this morning that "the word is going out quietly to Republican activists across New Jersey: If you're going to the GOP convention in Tampa next month, be sure to be there by Tuesday night, Aug. 28, because Gov. Chris Christie is going to be giving the keynote speech that night.
"'We've been told that's the night to be there, that's when the governor is going to speak. They're saying he's the keynoter,' one top party activist told The Post yesterday."
Christie? He is a favourite of Romney's "business" wing of the Party, but he had no more luck in the primaries than Palin herself, and the Grizzly pack won't chase that hare.
To make things worse, the Palin drama is raising public interest in the 'veep' job that could have been hers, usually seen as the worst job in politics. Last night a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 24 per cent of registered voters surveyed said the VP choice has a big influence on who they vote for, 74 per cent said it matters either a lot or somewhat, and 48 percent said the candidate's pick matters somewhat.
Romney is walking in a minefield. He is going to have to hold his nose and find a role for Palin in Tampa. "You don't invite yourself and your date to the Big Dance," says Palin coyly. What kind of deal is Romney now going to have to make to get her onto the dance floor? ·