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What's behind the Sarah Palin rebranding tour

By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • Gloria Borger: Sarah Palin's bus tour is motivated by concerns about her image
  • The bus trip is designed to show that there's an upbeat side to Palin, Borger says
  • It's hard to run for president when a majority of voters have negative views, she says

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "AC360°," "John King, USA" and "State of the Union."

Washington (CNN) -- So Sarah Palin walks into a Pennsylvania coffee shop, virtually unannounced. She sits down with a bunch of guys, gets her picture taken and is asked whether she would declare her candidacy right there.

Palin's response: She needs to make up her mind first.

My response: Then do it already (if you're even actually thinking about running). No making-up-my-mind-road-trip-with-the-family necessary; no leathery motorcycle photo opps; no discovering-America-so-we-can-raise-money ventures. And, while we're at it, no more disingenuous cat-and-mouse games with the media, whom you know will follow you (because we can't resist). In fact, you actually wouldn't have it any other way, because that's what this is all about: free press coverage.

Welcome to the Sarah Palin Rebranding Tour.

After all, it's been tough for Palin lately. Seems as if the limelight had moved elsewhere -- to President Barack Obama, for killing Osama bin Laden, to Donald Trump, for making a fool of himself, even to Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, actual GOP presidential candidates.

It's been tough for Palin lately. Seems as if the limelight had moved elsewhere.
--Gloria Borger
Sarah Palin's bus tour
Palin, Trump meet for pizza in NY

And try as she might to tweet her way into relevancy, it was getting hard. Here's a weighty Palin tweet about the serious matter of whether to release the photos of a dead bin Laden: Saw photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission.

Did she actually write "no politicking?" And "no drama?" Oh, the irony!

If you're a serious presidential candidate -- or even a serious presidential wannabe -- policy tweets on complex matters just don't cut it for the long haul. It's kind of like getting a medical degree through the mail: I suppose it can happen, but would I really want to hire you as my doc?

OK, so back to the "One Nation" tour -- which seems devoid of most things except a very big bus, and a maw around Palin as she steps off of it. Then we get to hear Palin speak, telling us what we already know: that this is a great, beautiful country with a glorious past. And we ought to appreciate it, and the tour is there to "remind Americans about our foundation -- our Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and our historical sites that should be a reminder every day to every American about how important it is to stand strong upon our foundation and build upon it." Not exactly a hard sell for most of us, who didn't need any reminding.

But this is not about America's history; it's about Sarah Palin's future. And if you look at the polls, it's clear that's pretty much up in the air. It's hard, for instance, to recover as a political force when your unfavorable ratings are at 59 percent, according to a recent CNN poll. Or when 61 percent of independent voters don't like you much.

This is not about America's history; it's about Sarah Palin's future.
--Gloria Borger

Of course, if Palin were to run, she would have a far better reception among Republicans in any primary fight: 56 percent of them say they would be pleased or enthusiastic about her candidacy.

But here's what GOP voters want most of all: to win. And when the candidate has higher negative than positive ratings -- and independent voters don't like you -- it's gets harder to make the case that you're likely to beat Obama. "You can't win the Republican nomination by proving you are unelectable," says an unaffiliated Republican strategist. "You can't sell books that way, and you can't have a real influence on policy and politics."

Hence, the political rehab. For those of us who have seen Palin as too relentlessly negative to be ultimately successful, here's the new, improved, sunny version. Leadership, after all, is about taking voters somewhere, not just about echoing their resentments. "She's a mirror, not a light," says one Republican pollster. "And voters want to be lifted up."

Just ask Barack Obama about that.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

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