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Sarah Palin in 2012: Don't Bet on Her -- Either Way

5 years ago
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Will Sarah Palin run for president in 2012?

That's probably the question I hear most from non-politicos. And members of the politerati are constantly considering it -- as they pine for a Palin presidential campaign. After all, for political journalists, a Palin bid would be manna from heaven: drama, personality, ideological debate, cultural warfare, and a flood of website traffic. So this week, the political media was atwitter about the latest filings that showed Palin's political action committee had raised nearly a million George Washingtons (that is, $865,815) in the second quarter of this year. She had not-too-generously devoted only $87,500 to donations to GOP candidates. Instead, she used most of her money to cover her travel and the PAC's other costs. But at June's end, she had about $1 million left in the bank.

Actually, this is not a large amount in terms of national politics -- real players on both sides of the aisle are trying to raise tens of millions of dollars to affect the congressional elections -- but it did provide pundits reason to cogitate about, ahhhhh, a Palin presidential campaign. The Guardian declared her mighty war chest suggested "gathering momentum for a run at the White House in 2012." The New York Daily News noted her PAC filings hint Palin "may be prepping 2012 campaign." Reuters reported her fundraising was "fueling speculation the former vice presidential nominee could be readying a 2012 White House bid."

Notice the use of the conditional. That's because no one knows what she's going to do, perhaps not even Palin herself.

It's easier to envision Palin having already decided against a run than it is to picture her at this time resolving to go for it. Can a politician who quit her job as Alaska governor and who polls so poorly seriously view herself as White House material? Oh, maybe so. Throughout U.S. history, pols with no shot at winning the presidency have been unable to resist this temptation. There's no telling how Palin assesses herself and her odds.

But in many cases, those no-chance candidates had a good reason for running: a decent performance can elevate the status of a long-shot candidate. Think Jesse Jackson. Or Ron Paul. With a hardy campaign for the presidency, a loser can still wind up the head of his or her political wing -- and become a real mover and shaker.

Palin already is that. She's the queen of the Tea Party. She's wields major-league clout within the GOP. Moreover, she has what few politicians possess: the ability to get people to talk about her whenever she wants. It's already a cliche: She's not a politician; she's a political celebrity -- Facebooking, tweeting,and Foxing herself into the public square whenever the whim strikes. (Michelle Cottle breaks this down well in the latest New Republic, but the piece is behind the pay wall.) So as Palin ponders 2012, she has more at stake than, say, Newt Gingrich, who, once again, is signaling that he just might consider offering himself as a presidential candidate. (One word: ha!) Gingrich risks nothing in running; Palin would be putting her Palin-ness in jeopardy,

Should Palin lose, she would imperil her standing as the Lady Gaga of the right. (I mean that as a compliment; each one is an innovator in her field.) Sure, a defeated Palin would still command plenty of attention (soap operas are hard to turn off) and retain her marketability (out this week: "Going Rogue: Part VII"). But she would be damaged -- or diminished -- goods. (Perhaps I should say further diminished.)

At this point, ambiguity is her friend. The will-she-or-won't-she tease draws notice and keeps Juneau's most famous quitter in the center of the political universe. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder has provided a smart rundown of what Palin has and hasn't done that would be relevant for 2012. For instance, in the hasn't-done category, she hasn't assembled strategists, aides, consultants and fundraisers to (a) advise her or (b) start pulling together a campaign infrastructure. Her inner circle is ridiculously small for a national pol -- if she even has a circle outside her family and a few friends. Certainly, Palin has time before she needs to recruit such a staff, but not so much, though it's not difficult to imagine Palin defying convention and taking her own damn time to say yes . . . or no.

There's no incentive for Palin to declare her intentions any sooner than is absolutely necessary. If she's leaning toward a race, she's better off not putting herself more directly in the crossfire. Consider this: She has yet to tell us how she would handle the BP oil spill if she were president. Would she want to say so? Or discuss (say, with Katie Couric) what she would specifically do to create millions of new jobs in the United States? Right now, she is not obligated to answer any question she does not care to field. There's a responsibility that comes with being a near-candidate -- and it can be limiting.

And if Palin has already told herself, hell no, she should keep that a secret, too. Why give anyone a reason to ignore her? Without the threat of a presidential run, she'd be shooting blanks.

Ultimately, she's probably merely waiting to see what develops -- with the Republican Party, with her own family (oy!) and with the world. (If Russia were to invade Alaska, would that help or hurt a potential Palin bid?) But Palin-watchers -- a group that includes mostly everyone -- will have to be patient. Her subsequent PAC filings are unlikely to yield true clues. Her erratic interventions in the national political discourse are unlikely to reveal future plans. That is, until she issues an explicit declaration -- or tweet. Before those 140 characters arrive, political prognosticators shouldn't bother to apply logic in trying to suss out her intentions. Remember her ill-explained retreat from the governor's office. This woman is a wild card. Don't bet on her -- either way.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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