In the 1997 sci-fi film "The Fifth Element," Earth is being approached by some menacing blob of evil, and the planet's military (brief digression: Have you ever noticed how sci-fi writers all seem to believe our future involves one world government?) decides, naturally, to fire some missiles at it. The blob not only absorbs the missiles but gets bigger, as though the puny earthlings' attempts to kill it have only made it stronger.
Something similar may be happening with the Republican establishment and Sarah Palin, sort of anyway. Though her fellow candidates are all tiptoeing around her, probably because they want someday to gain her supporters, bigshot Republicans have been lining up to tell her not to run for president. You've got Ed Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, writing a piece headlined "Palin, I Knew Reagan. You're No Reagan,", in which he writes, "If you want to be an imitator of Ronald Reagan, go learn something about him and respect his legacy. If you want to be a gadfly, just keep doing what you're doing." Zing! You've got Joe Scarborough writing, "Palin is not a stupid woman. But like the current president, she still does not know what she does not know. And she does know how to make millions of dollars, even if she embarrasses herself while doing it." Kapow! You've got Barbara Bush saying, "I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful, and I think she's very happy in Alaska. And I hope she'll stay there." Oh, snap!
This criticism doesn't exactly make Palin stronger in a strict vote-getting sense -- if you're so fervently anti-establishment that Barbara Bush criticizing Palin will drive you into her arms, you're probably with her already. But it does keep Palin the axis around which discussion of the primary revolves. One other thing it does is make it more likely that Palin will actually run. Palin's is the politics of victimization and resentment; she draws sustenance from criticism, and if she comes to see a Republican primary as a way to get down and fight with all the meanies who are going after her, she's far more likely to do it. And she may be moving toward the realization that once the 2012 GOP field takes shape, if she's not in it, she won't matter much anymore. Sure, there'll be some speculation about who will get her endorsement. But the main event will be the race to decide who gets to be the face of the Republican Party, and then the contest between that person and Barack Obama. If Palin passes on the 2012 race, all her Facebook friends and Twitter followers will have bigger things to worry about than the latest missive from the sage of Wasilla.
-- Paul Waldman