Over at the Atlantic, Josh Green and Andrew Sullivan are having something of a feud, complete with not-so-restrained insults, about the question of whether Sarah Palin will run for president in 2012 -- Josh says no, Andrew says yes. There are reasonable cases to be made on each side, but I'm in leaning Josh's direction.
I'll admit that I find Palin to be a fascinating political figure, not least because of the fact that someone of such modest intelligence, experience, and overall political gifts can nonetheless manage to, well, make so many people fascinated with her. Let's put aside for the moment the terrifying implications of a Palin presidency. Could she actually do it?
To answer, you have to look first at what it would take to succeed at it. Running a successful presidential campaign is incredibly difficult, and dozens of smart, talented, motivated people have tried to do it and failed miserably. You need a combination of political dexterity, judgment, knowledge, and vision -- not to mention super-human stamina and drive.
Every presidential campaign, furthermore, has moments of crisis, where the candidate gets tested. In 2008, Barack Obama faced Hillary Clinton's comeback victory in New Hampshire, the Reverend Wright imbroglio, and the economic meltdown, to name just a few. Looking back, it's clear that at all those points, he made exactly the right strategic decision, then executed his plan adroitly. Try to imagine Palin facing those kinds of campaign crises. Do you think she'd navigate them with that kind of skill?
To you and me, the obvious answer is: Are you kidding? But Palin has never lacked for confidence or the belief that whatever she decides to do, God himself wants her to do that thing. So she'd pass the first hurdle: She probably thinks that if she ran, she'd win. She happens to be terribly wrong about that -- as Green points out, among the things you have to do in a presidential campaign is "persuade people who don't already worship you," which will be particularly hard for her.
But does she want to run? Even though she only spent 10 weeks on the campaign trail in 2008, she probably also has a good idea of what slogging through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire to get to a gathering of a dozen people in someone's living room might be like, and I doubt it's her cup of tea.
There's a very good chance that when 2012 rolls around, the economy will be in far better shape than it is today, Obama's approval ratings will be up, and it will be a long shot for any Republican to win, let alone Palin. But 2016? That's a different story. Don't forget that Palin is only 46 years old. She could spend the next five years as the most important media star in the GOP firmament, watch Mitt Romney get his hat handed to him, and be perfectly positioned for that election.
It could be a comeback akin to Richard Nixon's in 1968. I can't wait.
-- Paul Waldman