GOP pundits to Palin: If you're running for president, be more presidential

Some prominent Republicans are worried Sarah Palin is too thin-skinned to withstand the glaring spotlight that comes with a presidential bid.

The concerns raised about Palin come as the former Alaska governor weighs a White House run. GOP officials say Palin must be more careful in picking her battles and will have to change how she operates if she is serious about winning the Republican nomination in 2012. 

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Following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) earlier this month, some liberals homed in on the map Palin’s political action committee had posted on the Internet. The map depicted targeted lawmakers in the 2010 election cycle, including the Arizona Democrat, with crosshairs over their districts.

Palin subsequently released a Web video in which she accused the media of manufacturing a “blood libel” against her. The use of that term was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans, raising more questions about whether she’s disciplined enough to mount a successful presidential campaign. 

Palin was interviewed Monday night on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, where she sought to explain her “blood libel” remark, but that did little to stem the controversy. Palin’s poll numbers have dropped over the last two weeks. 

During an appearance this week on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said, “I think she’s got to slow down and be a lot more careful and think through what she’s saying and how she’s saying it.”

Gingrich is also mulling a run for president. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another likely Republican candidate for president, similarly distanced himself from Palin by saying he likely wouldn’t have used a map featuring crosshairs.

Even some Republicans who have sympathies for Palin are publicly warning the 2008 vice presidential candidate to reassess her communications strategy.

“If you want to be a presidential candidate, you probably should let other people answer media critics, and you should deal with things that are at a sort of presidential level,” said Weekly Standard editor William Kristol over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And it wasn’t necessary, I think, for her to defend herself explicitly in an eight-minute video. She had plenty of people out there defending her against these unjust charges,” he said.

Days earlier — before her “blood libel” comment — Kristol had defended Palin against criticism from liberal pundits, calling it a “disgrace” and comparing it to “McCarthyism.”

A spokesman for Palin could not be reached for comment. 

Palin’s personal responses to a number of national controversies have been a hallmark of her political success, though. She’s largely bypassed the traditional media and sought to communicate directly to supporters via Facebook missives and Twitter postings, along with a smattering of sit-downs with friendly pundits on Fox News, for which she’s a paid contributor.

She has lobbed fire toward other major figures in the GOP, showing little interest in being a consistent team player within the party. 

After former first lady Barbara Bush said last fall that she hoped Palin would stay in Alaska, Palin countered by calling the family “blue bloods who want to pick and choose their winners instead of allowing competition to pick and choose the winners.” 

And when Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, asserted that Palin’s support of conservative candidates in Senate primaries had cost the party a chance at control of the Senate, she hit back by accusing him of a “bigger government agenda.”

In politics, the counterpunch can be a candidate’s most effective weapon. The problem for Palin, political analysts say, is that she counterpunches too much. 

“Sarah Palin needs to articulate a broader vision and demonstrate that her politics are more than just about her and her celebrity,” said Mark McKinnon, who served as an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

Her aggressive communications tactics might result from her Alaska origins, an environment with far less media scrutiny than Washington. 

“She’s not completely a political novice, but at the same time, the political media environment in a place like Alaska is very different,” said Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University. “I think other people that grew up in a different area and were exposed to a more diverse media might have developed a thicker skin.”

Palin shows no signs of changing up her approach. 

“I will continue to speak out. They’re not going to shut me up,” she said Monday night on Fox News.

Other Republicans say that is exactly the wrong thing to do. 

“She should stop talking — now,” said David Frum, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush. Frum made his remarks on MSNBC, a Fox News rival, following Palin’s interview on Monday.

President Obama was privately chided for being too thin-skinned before he launched his bid for the White House. 

David Axelrod reportedly penned a memo at the time for Obama, warning the then-senator to better prepare for the barrage of criticism that comes with a run for the presidency.

“You care far too much what is written and said about you,” Axelrod warned in his memo, as reported in the book The Battle for America 2008.

“You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes (R) attacked you, you flinched,” the senior Obama adviser warned.

Obama easily defeated Keyes in his Senate race in 2004.