Is it too early to start speculating about the 2012 GOP presidential primaries? Of course not! The race promises to be a chaotic free-for-all of backbiting and recrimination, flip-flops and opportunistic conversions, feigned outrage and vicious attacks over meaningless non-issues. Throw in the fact that the force within the party with the most energy right now – the teabaggers – are not exactly known for their restraint, and it should be a hoot.
I've long held that if Sarah Palin runs, her campaign will surely be the most entertaining train wreck to hit American politics in decades. But when I read Nate Silver’s case that her chances of winning the nomination are actually pretty good, I was reminded of something fundamental that Palin has going for her. Way back in 2007, I wrote a two-part piece on the importance of narrative to a presidential candidacy. I argued that no one on the Republican side was really telling a story about why they were running, while on the Democratic side, only one candidate – a certain young whippersnapper from Illinois who at the time was a serious longshot – had really thought through what his narrative was.
Looking ahead to 2012, if there's a candidate who has a good story to tell, it's got to be Palin. You might call her story "10 Things They Hate About You (and Me)." It's a well-worn tale of cultural resentment, one saying that those elitist/socialist/godless/coastal/immigrant-loving/not-real-American bastards took over the country and are driving us to ruin as they sneer down their noses at you. It has the three essential parts of the campaign narrative: it says what's wrong with the country; it says where the candidate wants to take the country; and it says why the candidate, and only the candidate, is the person to do it. Palin has always practiced a very personal politics, one that portrays her as a martyr endlessly suffering an onslaught of slings and arrows from the kind of people you just can't stand – if you’re a real American, that is. If it turns out that she doesn't know a thing about policy, well that's because she's just like you – not some soulless policy wonk, but a real person. If it turns out that her teenage daughter got pregnant, it's not because her rhetoric about abstinence is a joke, it's because she’s just like you – she knows what it's like to have family struggles. And all the attention to her soap opera life just confirms that the liberals hate her, which is the best credential a Republican can sport.
This is Palin's story, and she's sticking to it. She's not going to try to reinvent herself as a policy wonk. And why should she? None of the other likely candidates has any story at all.