Sarah Palin is not running for president, and though she tried to make it sound like she chose that result, it was largely forced on her by the dynamics of the GOP race. Nonetheless, I think she responded to the situation wisely. Getting in would have netted her nothing and staying out benefits her.
First, a lot of people in the GOP simply did not want her to run and since campaigns are sophisticated popularity contests, that's a problem. Second, the GOP field is already crowded, especially for someone with her religious and socially conservative persona. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has her matched in terms of religion, as does Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). But not only would Palin have struggled to define a unique position in the field of GOP contenders, she would have also had a hard time finding the necessary staff and backers, something that she always has been behind on. Her PAC never actively searched for a full campaign staff, and she never started to put the networks in place for a presidential run.
Staying out saved Palin a futile attempt at the presidency, but as she realizes, it also preserves her status as a media guerilla.
In the 2010 midterms, she was able to lend support to various GOP candidates with well-timed endorsements and Tweets. If she ran for president, not only would she have had to take on a more presidential demeanor, but she would have had to cancel her contract with Fox News, depriving her of a media perch from which to launch attacks at liberals everywhere.
After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that he wouldn't run, attention turned to the wealthy backers that he had attracted. Who would get them, Mitt Romney or Perry? With Palin, the question isn't so neat because she doesn't have a lot institutional materiel that can be snatched away at one fell swoop. Rather, her power comes from her mercurial influence over middle America.
All of the candidates have a lot to benefit from her outspoken style once the race against Obama begins in earnest, but whoever wins the Republican nomination should approach her carefully because she's better when she's off on her own and on the offensive. When she has to defend her actions, she's much less persuasive and if she's too closely affiliated with the Republican 2012 campaign, her weaknesses might rub off on the GOP's champion against Obama.
The lingering question for me is what she will do in the future. Is she going to use her media presence to build for an eventual presidential run (which is what I thought Mike Huckabee was doing), or does she want to permanently move over to a role as commentator?
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