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Even without Fox News, Sarah Palin looks to keep an audience

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

The “lamestream media,” as Sarah Palin calls it, may have written her off now that the former vice presidential candidate and tea party favorite has lost her principal media voice as a well-paid commentator on Fox News.

But there’s no indication that Ms. Palin will go back to life in Alaska as the former mayor of a small town and then governor for two years, fishing and hunting with her family before Sen. John McCain picked her out of relative political obscurity to be his running mate in 2008.

“I was raised to never retreat and to pick battles wisely, and all in due season,” she said in the one substantial interview she’s given since Real Clear Politics first reported that Palin and Fox had parted ways. “When it comes to defending our republic, we haven’t begun to fight! But we delight in those who underestimate us.”

The extent to which the conservative-leaning TV enterprise tried to keep her onboard is still unclear.

Fox reportedly offered Palin far less than the million-dollar annual contract that had included a broadcast studio at her home in Wasilla, Alaska. She turned it down, and Fox had no inclination to up the ante.

“What happened, quite simply, is that Palin’s star had faded,” Howard Kurtz wrote in Newsweek’s the Daily Beast. “She was no longer the rock star of 2008, her future presidential ambitions the subject of constant speculation.”

For Fox News, it seemed to be largely a business decision. Or as CEO Roger Ailes put it in 2011, “I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings.” But there was more to it than that, it seems.

“The political climate shifted as well, with Republicans, having been shellacked in their second straight presidential election, debating a future involving [Marco] Rubio and [Chris] Christie and [Paul] Ryan but not Palin,” Kurtz wrote. “And the atmosphere at Fox shifted as well. It was no longer a network in the throes of a tea party revolt and providing a platform for Glenn Beck. Fox edged a bit closer to the center, and Palin began to seem more the [actor] Julianne Moore of [the HBO movie] ‘Game Change’ than a political force.”

In her interview with Stephen Bannon on Breitbart.com -- the conservative news and opinion website founded by the late Andrew Breitbart -- Palin promised to stay in the fight, pointedly targeting establishment Republicans as well as President Obama.

“Focus on the 2014 election is … imperative,” she said. “It’s going to be like 2010 [when Republicans took over the US House of Representatives], but this time around we need to shake up the GOP machine that tries to orchestrate away too much of the will of constitutional conservatives who don’t give a hoot how they do it in DC.

“We’re not going to be able to advance the cause of limited constitutional government unless we deal with these big government enablers on our side,” Palin said. “And this all ties into the problem of crony capitalism and the permanent political class in the Beltway. We need to consistently take them on election after election – ever vigilant.”

That pretty much describes tea party attitudes and philosophy, and Palin urges followers to “jump out of the comfort zone, and broaden our reach as believers in American exceptionalism.”

“That means broadening our audience,” she acknowledges. “I’m taking my own advice here as I free up opportunities to share more broadly the message of the beauty of freedom and the imperative of defending our republic and restoring this most exceptional nation. We can't just preach to the choir; the message of liberty and true hope must be understood by a larger audience. “

Is that larger audience available for Palin’s unique style of political pot-stirring?

A Rasmussen Reports poll earlier this month shows “views of the tea party movement are at their lowest point ever,” with just eight percent of those surveyed self-identifying as members of the movement, down from a high of 24 percent in April 2010. Just 30 percent have a favorable view of the movement, 49 percent an unfavorable view.

So Palin may relish the fight, but it won’t be an easy one.