Is Sarah Palin the GOP Frontrunner for 2012?

Ross Douthat notes that there has been a lot of talk from accross the political spectrum about Sarah Palin running for the GOP presidential nomination. Andrew Sullivan has long believed Palin would not only run but win the nomination. Now, we have folks like David Frum who are saying that she may 2012 frontrunner. Douthat argues against such speculation:

It is extremely unlikely that the political landscape in the winter and spring of 2012 will resemble the political landscape in the autumn of 2010. Even setting aside the unpredictability of economic developments, foreign-policy crises, and everything else that could shift the ground beneath our feet, the reality of having a more empowered Republican Party in Washington and a weaker President Obama in the White House will almost certainly work profound changes on the country’s mood — and yes, in the mood of the Republican base as well. (It’s hard to be quite so fired up and furious about socialism when Washington is mired in gridlock, and it’s hard to be quite so outraged at RINO perfidy when you’ve kicked a lot of the RINOs out of office.)

Indeed, the blog Bipartisan Rules argues that a Palin nomination isn’t likely for a lot of reasons. This is what they wrote in countering Sullivan’s claims:

First: While Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are quietly building both grassroots support and support among the Republican kingmakers, Palin has done nothing of the sort. Sullivan routinely makes the incorrect parallel between Barack Obama in 2008 and Palin in 2012 and suggests that Palin will enjoy a similar trajectory. Obama became such a force primarily because of his enormous apparatus in Iowa. This was a highly organized, well-funded operation staffed with political heavyweights like David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Tom Daschle. Palin has nothing of the sort. In fact — other than making random endorsements of political lightweights like Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller — Palin hasn’t done anything in preparation for 2012. if she believes that a handful of endorsements will swing the nomination her way, she’s dead wrong.

Second: Conservative elites abhor Palin and realize she’s unelectable. Mitch Daniels is making the rounds. Pawlenty and Romney have already done so. If Haley Barbour jumps in, he will no doubt have his share of high-dollar bankrollers. The GOP elites — at AIPAC, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, investment bankers, oil barons, old Reagan & Bush hands — are the ones who are the kingmakers. Unlike the GOP, the Democratic Party is made up of seemingly hundreds of interest groups like the NEA, the ACLU, labor unions and the NAACP that only the most impressive candidates (basically, Clinton and Obama) can pull together. This is precisely why small-dollar donors can be so effective in the Democratic Party (Howard Dean in 2004, Obama in ’08) but not even make a dent in the GOP (e.g., Ron Paul) — the Democratic Party is often fractured, and the GOP isn’t.

More on this point: Every single Republican candidate has either been a political veteran who wins the nomination simply because it’s “his” turn (Nixon in 1968, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008) and/or has received the blessing of the party kingmakers. This was particularly manifested with George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. Bush wasn’t a particularly devoted conservative, nor was he even well known at the time he announced his candidacy, but he was able to bury the rest of the field precisely because the blessing of the kingmakers meant he effectively had unlimited pockets. In 2012, Palin will not be as fortunate, because conservative elites want nothing to do with her.

While I would like to believe Douthat and the folks at Bipartisan Rules, there is a part of me that ends up siding with Sullivan. Why? While I agree things might change on the economic and political fronts between now and the spring of 2012, they also might not change. The economy may still be dragging in two years. Second, it’s easy for those of us who don’t like Sarah Palin to look at her as a waste of a politician who will go nowhere once the primary season hits. We see a woman running only on star power and don’t think she can win over folks in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But we have also been proven wrong to count Palin out. I thought after she stepped down from the governorship of Alaska, that her political career was done. Instead, her name has become more well known.

Also, let’s not count out the Republican electorate. Most folks simply follow the polls that says the wider public don’t care for her. While that’s true, anyone running for President has to get through the primaries, and those voters tend to mirror Palin’s beliefs. I could see an energized base giving her a victory in Iowa and South Carolina and quite possibly other states.

The final thing here is that a few months ago, I believed Congressman Mike Castle was a lock for the GOP Senate nomination in Delaware. The Republican establishment wanted someone who could win in what has become a “blue state.” No one counted on a perennial candidate, backed by a populist movement and Sarah Palin would win. And yet, Christine O’Donnell did. She will most likely lose in the general, as will Palin, if she gets the Republican nod. But the fact is, the Tea Party and Palin have been instrumental in firing up a hard right base to get them to primaries, and if they can topple a long time leader like Castle, they can also do it to people like Mitch Daniels.

All of which is bad for the GOP in the long run. But maybe it needs for Palin to be the 2012 nominee and lose in order to knock some sense into it.

If such a loss could do that.

Crossposted at Big Tent Revue

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Author: DENNIS SANDERS

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