Imagine this scenario.
In early 2012, President Obama realizes that he can’t possibly win the presidency again. He announces that he will not seek another term because he achieved his goals: health care for all; energy awareness; and expansion of government programs for those in need. He knows he has spent all his political capital on an expansion of American Liberalism not seen since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. Like Johnson, he makes the announcement early enough to leave the field wide open to would-be candidates.
A historic matchup -- No matter who wins, a woman is going to the White House.
But who would win?
Let’s take a look at the brands
You couldn’t have two more opposite political resumes. Forget ideology for a second, just look at education and professional background. Hillary is elite, North East education all the way. Sarah is state school and thoroughly western. Hillary is a pretty classic pol: U.S. Senate to State Department with plenty of grassroots politicking and top- level experience in-between. Hillary has never seen a box that she didn’t check.
Sarah is identified with only one-state and one office. Whereas Hillary has always completed everything she began in public life, Palin has not. Her political resume includes leaving the governorship halfway through term.
But does this mean that Palin is automatically out of contention? No way.
Never, ever, rule out Sarah Palin. Especially not in the climate that is likely to exist in 2012.
If Obama, our philosopher-king, high-IQ technocrat, manages not to do anything different before 2012, how many Americans will want another candidate even remotely like him? Especially if that candidate was part of his administration?
Fuggedaboutit. In 2012, we’ll likely be taking our IQs and our political/educational resumes at a slightly less stratospheric level -- thank you very much.
But that’s not the real reason that Palin would be the stronger candidate.
Bottom line, Sarah is likable; Hillary is only admirable. And likability trumps all other qualities when it comes to politics.
Obama once said this to Clinton: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” These grudging words couldn’t be more prophetic and they’ll come back to haunt her in 2012.
You need to search for likability in Hillary. Whereas in Sarah, you can’t begin to even measure her likability, it’s that enormous. Even if you’re naturally opposed to her, she’s just a hard person to hate.
Ultimately, this likability will be the critical difference. Sarah can always build over her experience and policy gaps, but it is almost impossible for Hillary to build over her “likability” gaps. Moreover, if, by 2012, Obama’s intelligence and intellect haven’t translated into effective leadership, then these gaps in Palin are going to be perceived as much less important than they are now.
Palin’s biggest risk is too much exposure before then – especially if it is the wrong kind of exposure. She’s got the likability advantage in the bag, so she ought to concentrate on bridging those gaps. She’s been doing this with her commentary, but should do a smart policy book. Her reality show on TLC, premiering November 14, is okay, but she needs to be careful that she doesn’t make herself into a general-purpose celebrity. Also, a too-close embrace of the Tea Party -- especially of its most fringe candidates -- could hurt her.
But the fact is, if this scenario happens, what an election 2012 would be! Throw into the mix Colin Powell, switching parties and running as Hillary’s VP, and Marco Rubio joining forces with Palin. Wow.
And, remember, politics is always easier if you keep marketing in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America . He markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."