Karl Rove believes that Sarah Palin will run for president. Many other political observers have said the same thing, even as the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee has remained coy about her intentions.
I’ve had my doubts. Palin has done very little of the legwork required to mount a competitive bid for the Republican nomination. She has watched other candidates come in and grab slices of her Tea Party base. And like Mike Huckabee, who declined to run earlier this year, she has achieved a celebrity status that might be more appealing than the rigors of a campaign.
Palin has emerged as a kingmaker in conservative and Republican politics, however. The possibility that she might run for president maximizes her leverage, so she needs to keep that possibility open for as long as she can. That’s why I have tended to interpret her campaign-like activities, such as the trips to Iowa, as elaborate head fakes.
Until now. Palin’s repeated condemnations of “crony capitalism” are a not-too-subtle jab against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has emerged as a frontrunner in national Republican polls and has established himself as a Tea Party favorite in his own right. It doesn’t make much sense to attack the man who could be the Republican nominee, the candidate who might be the most logical person for Palin to endorse, unless she plans to run herself. ((Though obviously the criticism applies to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as well.)
Palin might see the crony capitalism charge as one of Perry’s weak points. While Romney supposedly plans to hit Perry from the left on entitlements and from the right on immigration, Palin has the cred to potentially make this line of attack — simultaneously populist and libertarian — stick.
A Palin presidential campaign would be a big gamble at this point. Her poll numbers have fallen precipitously. Some of her supporters have moved on to other candidates, all of whom are more organized than she. An unsuccessful or embarrassing presidential candidacy would undermine her standing as a conservative leader (see Gingrich, Newt). She could effectively help Romney win the nomination.
Then again, Palin’s numbers could rise as soon as she announced. Supporters who have left for Perry or Michele Bachmann might return. All of the poll numbers from 2007, which showed Rudy Giuliani and then Fred Thompson in the lead while John McCain was dead in the water, proved pretty much useless in predicting the following year’s primary results. Who’s to say that the early numbers will be any more predictive this time around?
Our friends Jeff Lord and Pat Buchanan have both suggested Palin could follow the Nixon strategy. Richard Nixon could afford to declare late for the 1968 Republican nomination, allowing George Romney and others to implode on their own. Although their detractors have much in common, Palin is obviously not Nixon. But perhaps she has some tricks up her sleeve.
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