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As Sarah Palin demonstrated after the 2008 election, failure on the campaign trail doesn’t mean you have to disappear from the public eye. In fact, she proved the opposite, parlaying her unsuccessful run on the Republican ticket into a high profile — and very lucrative — career as a pundit, with earnings estimated at more than $1 million a year just from her gig on Fox News.
So which of the current crop of Republican candidates — some of whom could rake in $500,000 to $700,000 a year on the high end as a pundit — is the most likely to pull a Palin?
THR surveyed agents and cable news insiders, many of whom believe Texas Gov. Rick Perry has the makings of a great TV pundit once his term in office is over. “The look, the Southern base, the religion — he’s perfect for Fox News,” says Nick Kahn, a broadcasting agent at ICM.
But CNN analyst Paul Begala, who made the leap from Bill Clinton advisor to pundit almost 20 years ago, disagrees. Perry is “definitely in the top 10 dumbest people I’ve met in my life,” he says, noting that TV personalities must think quickly and remember their cues, a sore spot for Perry in the wake of his recent debate fumble. “There’s just no hope for him as a pundit.”
Begala thinks Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has the goods to be the next Palin. The traits that hurt Bachmann as a candidate — a speaking style that doesn’t bother to “clear the holster before you pull the trigger,” he says — might help her on TV. “The ability to offer something interesting and provocative on a moment’s notice is definitely a talent,” argues Begala.
Most observers dismiss the chances of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (“more at home on PBS” says Begala) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to find TV success. One insider suggests Romney is “too mainstream” for Fox News, but might make a nice fit for CNN or even MSNBC if the network is looking to add a conservative to its liberal-leaning lineup.
The wild card seems to be Herman Cain. The sexual harassment allegations against the former pizza executive might be “a real problem,” says one executive, though CNN hired Eliot Spitzer in the wake of his call-girl scandal. Still one agent thinks Cain’s folksy humor might play well on Fox, saying, “He’s unpredictable, and in TV that’s a good thing.”
ROMNEY HITS HOLLYWOOD: Polls show that Mitt Romney is first in the hearts of California Republicans, and he’ll be the first of the party’s presidential hopefuls to visit Los Angeles for a fundraiser Dec. 6 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Hedge fund manager Josh Friedman and his wife, Beth, are the hosts, along with Eva and Marc Stein and Tracy and Gene Sykes of Goldman Sachs. Organizers include former MGM chief-turned-investor Harry Sloan. Individual tickets are priced at $2,500 a piece, but recipients of the invitation also have the option of pledging to raise amounts for Romney ranging from $100,000 to $250,000. — Tina Daunt
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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier