Sarah Palin is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2012. I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t go for it – having gotten rich and famous helping John McCain lose, she might well figure that a losing Presidential campaign in her own right would be even better – and I don’t see anyone on the Republican side who could plausibly take her in a multi-candidate contest. (Isn’t it extraordinary how weak the Republican bench turns out to be? It’s a field in which Mitt Romney, the original Stepford Husband, looks like a man of gravitas.)
Now this may partly reflect wishful thinking on my part, since I also think she would guarantee an Obama landslide of 1964-1972-1984 proportions. No doubt Republican pols and power brokers see the same future, and no doubt they would, collectively, like to prevent it. But they face a collective-action problem. Getting the Palinite base mad at you is unlikely to be a good career move if you’re trying to make your way in GOP politics. So the best play for any individual is to hang back and hope that someone else does the dirty work.
Here the lack of respected elder statesmen takes its toll. Were Reagan still alive, he might have been counted on to deftly puncture the Palin balloon. But neither Bush has the capacity to do the job, though the elder probably has the inclination.
In this context, George Will’s attack on Palin’s populism may – or, of course, may not – be a straw in the wind.
Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess. Populism does not wax in tranquil times; it is a cathartic response to serious problems. But it always wanes because it never seems serious as a solution.
Political nature abhors a vacuum, which is what often exists for a year or two in a party after it loses a presidential election. But today’s saturation journalism, mesmerized by presidential politics and ravenous for material, requires a steady stream of political novelties. In that role, Palin is united with the media in a relationship of mutual loathing. This is not her fault. But neither is it her validation.
Will the Republican Establishment be able to reconstitute itself in time to stop Sarah Barracuda? And will it find an actual candidate around whom to rally? My guesses remain “no” and “no.” But I’ve been wrong before.