Although Palin has often been at the center of political storms over the two-and-a-half years since she emerged on the national scene, her allies say the onslaught she has faced since the Tucson shootings has shaken her like none before.
Palin officials confirmed a report by ABC News that Palin has received an unprecedented number of death threats since Saturday’s shootings and has been in conversations with security officials about the matter. They declined to provide further details.
Much of the criticism has centered on a map that Palin put on her Web site during the 2010 elections, which used cross-hair symbols to depict the districts of 20 congressional Democrats she had targeted for defeat. One of those was a Tucson shooting victim, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), who had said at the time that Palin’s map was an invitation to violence.
However, as more facts emerged about the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, it grew increasingly apparent that the demons that drove him had little, if any, connection to partisan politics.
On the video, Palin appeared more subdued than usual — drawn and older-looking, her eyes noticeably red.
“I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance,” she said.
The tragedy in Tucson occurred as the former governor was diving into domestic and foreign policy issues in an effort to build a more substantive political identity. The strategy, in which Palin intends to step up her involvement in public policy debates and embark on overseas trips to nations such as Israel, is in its early stages.
Last month, she toured earthquake-ravaged Haiti with Franklin Graham, who runs a charity there, and whose father, evangelist Billy Graham, has been the counselor of presidents since Harry Truman.
Aides framed her new approach as a direct response to critics, particularly some Republicans, who in recent months have dismissed her as a celebrity and questioned her intellectual heft.
Palin’s team, a small and discreet circle of advisers who have gained her trust, knows that she has a long way to go. They say she has been speaking out for months on substantive issues but has received little credit from Washington-based journalists and the Republican establishment.
Palin has been working to brand herself a “tea party hawk,” meaning she supports shrinking government but argues against cuts at the Pentagon. In a time of economic turmoil and anger at Wall Street, she set out to promote free markets but criticizes big corporations that sought political power to tilt the playing field in their favor.
As an early experiment, when Palin delivered an address in Phoenix late last year on monetary policy, her team leaked excerpts to the conservative National Review. Her comments — criticizing a Federal Reserve bond-buying program intended to stimulate the economy — drew widespread attention, putting her in the middle of a complex policy debate. It also prompted some GOP strategists to recognize that even the lofty Fed could be a populist political issue.
Her Wednesday statement was another opportunity to demonstrate her seriousness and speak to those beyond her enthusiastic base. Instead, with two words, she wound up back in a familiar place.
“Whatever explanation she could give to use such a loaded term, the truth is she shouldn’t have,” Neusner said. “She doesn’t have to turn the other cheek; she was, in fact, maligned in a gross and unfair way. But she could have said everything she said without that phrase.
“When people are trying to be leaders,” he added, “they need to attract supporters, not repel them.”
Staff writers William Wan and Dan Balz contributed to this report.