NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tea Party movement may have a leader -- if she chooses to step up. Sarah Palin's Saturday night keynote address was definitely the hot ticket, and she is the one person who could unite the activist groups that have gathered for the first National Tea Party Convention
Palin has been such a presence, it's hard to believe she hasn't been in Nashville all along, since the convention's opening on Thursday.
Earlier Saturday, Tea Party Express' Amy Kremer was positively giddy when she announced that Palin would appear at the March 27 Searchlight, Nev., kickoff rally for her group's third cross-country tour. (Searchlight is, of course, the hometown of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, the next endangered politician on the Tea Party list.)
Palin, described by former Colorado congressman and convention speaker Tom Tancredo as a "really, really pretty Margaret Thatcher," is definitely a celebrity here. Everyone I've talked with praises her. Talk about her more than $100,000 speaking fee has died down among those more worried that they will get a good seat.
Margo Beal, who traveled from Spokane, Wash., with her husband, John, had just finished reading Palin's "Going Rogue," and said, "I was so encouraged and deeply touched. ... She wants the best for the Alaskan people. That's why she stepped down." As James Hammond of McCalla, Ala., told me, "Anybody who can go moose-hunting is all right with me."
But will Palin seek a high-profile role with a movement that could be her path back to elective office? She has her best-selling book, and, as The New York Times
catalogues, her staff of advisers, her Facebook and Twitter following, and her endorsements going to conservative Republican candidates. It certainly looks like a political operation.
Though disparate groups make up Tea Party nation, a newly announced political action committee
hints at a consolidation of resources around candidates who support certain economic and social issues. Could coalescing behind a leader be next?
Someone needs to become the face of the movement "very soon," said Frank Fox, 73, of Carlsbad, Calif. "She has a leg up on everybody else because no other person with her national stature has stepped forward." Fox said Palin "articulates very clearly and forcefully the thoughts on everyone's mind about the ill that's being done to this country – economically and morally." She can be the leader, but "she has to fight for it."
The leader of what? "If someone is strong enough to lead the Tea Party movement," said Fox, "that person can lead the country." His wife, Barbara, 74, supports Palin if she can "stick by her intense inquisitiveness to broaden her knowledge."
More than a few delegates anticipating the possibilities for 2012 wore buttons that said it all: "Palin/Beck."