Smackdown 2012: Republican Establishment vs. Palin.

Back in 2003, when the Howard Dean campaign was building up extraordinary momentum and capturing the fascination of the press, in large part because it harnessed this new-fangled thing called "the Internet," a movement among establishment Democrats popped up to stop this interloper. It was thought that he was too brusque, his politics were too far left (not only had he opposed the Iraq War, which all of the other candidates had supported, he even signed a bill providing civil unions for gay people!), and if he won the Democratic nomination, he would surely go down to defeat. So they started attacking him, and some even went so far as to raise money and run ads in Iowa against him.

David Frum, keying off an evisceration of Sarah Palin in The Weekly Standard of all places, sees something similar happening:

Politicians love to present a narrative in which they and their band of outsiders battle an entrenched party establishment. In most cases, the stories are self-serving myths: party establishments are far less entrenched than they used to be, and the insurgents usually hold paid-up memberships in the party establishment themselves. See eg Howard Dean, career of.

But in Palin’s case, the myth rings true. There really is a GOP party establishment. That establishment took up Palin as a useful tool in 2008, deployed Palin as an edged anti-Obama weapon in 2009 – and is now horrified to see that they may have set in motion a force possibly too powerful to halt when its time has ended. The story of the behind-the-scenes struggle to squelch Palin – and her ferocious determination not to be squelched – will be the big GOP-side story of the coming year.

One key question is whether this becomes organized in a meaningful way. You can grumble and talk to reporters and do lots of things behind the scenes -- like discourage fundraisers and campaign operatives from helping her -- but that's different than a project that actually spends money and employs people with the objective of denying her the nomination. Of course, the existence of that effort will only feed Palin's victimization narrative, in which she's not just fighting the establishment (that's so 2008), but being oppressed by the establishment. Her campaign will hardly have room for everyone she needs to complain is being mean to her, between the media and the intellectuals and the government and Karl Rove and Levi Johnston and whichever blogger criticized her that day.

Let's not forget that 2012 will be the first post-Citizens United presidential primary. If you're a Republican billionaire concerned about Palin, you could decide to hand Rove a check for $10 million or $20 million and say, "Destroy her." And because such efforts can be done without tainting the other candidates, they can be as brutal as they want to be. Should make the primaries a whole lot of fun.

-- Paul Waldman

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