The editors of the New Republic have beaten me to the punch and officially predicted that Sarah Palin will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012:
Traditionally, the losing VP nominee is always the front runner for the top spot in the next election, so in that sense, there’s nothing unusual about claiming the same about Palin. But Palin’s laboring under 2 burdens: top Republican opinion-makers (David Brooks, George Will, etc.) think she’s an insult to the conservative cause, and Democrats and Independents have a very low opinion of her.
To gain the Republican nomination, Democrats and Independents don’t count, so although she might be toxic in a general election, that doesn’t matter for getting the nomination. Also, these opinion-makers who despise her are literate pundits. The illiterate pundits (radio jocks and Fox news guys) adore her — and they are much more important for saying Republican votes than mere newspaper columnists.
I think her real challenge will be her location — Alaska is very far away, and to prepare for a 2012 run, she’s going to have to spend a lot of time on the hustings, campaigning for other candidates, building a network, and otherwise laying the groundwork for a 2012 race. She could continue to spend a fair amount of her time away from the state and get away with it (being governor of an oil-rich state is about the easiest governor gig one could get), but she would really have to not run for relection in 2010 in order to campaign full time for 2012.
So if she doesn’t run for reelection, we’ll know she’s going for the brass ring.
One might expect if she wins the nomination, the election itself would be a disaster, and she would bring the Party to ruin. Actually, that makes sense, too. The last swing of the pendulum was in 1968, when Nixon beat Humphrey. The Democrats responded (with some help from the Nixon campaign’s dirty tricks) with their most liberal possible candidate, George McGovern.
True believers tend to respond to failure with even truer belief (“McCain didn’t attack enough”). It’s only after a second abysmal failure do people start questioning their beliefs and looking for alternatives.
Even more reason for Palin in 2012.