Democrats are positively giddy over the sudden re-entry of Sarah Palin into Republican presidential politics. The pol they most love to mock is the one they would really most love to have as the face of the GOP, so the left has cheered as Palin, in rapid succession, declared on Fox News that she has "fire in the belly" for a possible presidential run; put out news of a secret feature-film project, glorifying her career, that will begin screening this summer in early primary states; and then unveiled the "One Nation" bus tour currently rolling northward toward New Hampshire.
But the high-fiving Dems should be careful what they wish for: Palin may actually be the worst thing to happen to Barack Obama, and Democratic candidates all down the ballot, in 2012.
That's only partly because she's a far more potent political force, and skillful strategist, than many give her credit for.
It's also because, just two weeks ago, everything seemed to be aligning against the GOP nominating a serious, smart, well-funded, mainstream-acceptable candidate to carry the party banner next year. Palin may be the only thing that could save — and rehabilitate — Mitt Romney.
Most observers agree that Romney has the best chance against Obama among the current crop of Republican candidates — and, even if he doesn't win in November 2012, would bring the party's image back toward relatively centrist, economically oriented respectability.
But Romney's chances at the nomination have been sinking fast — leaving, at best, the Bible-quoting, hard-line conservative Tim Pawlenty, if not someone truly on the fringe like Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich. A nominee like that would likely result in an Obama landslide, bringing with it a Democratic retaking of the US House of Representatives.
Palin is known to be disdainful of, if not outright hostile to, Romney — and it's probably no accident that her bus tour is timed perfectly to ruin Romney's formal candidacy announcement, scheduled for this Thursday.
But while she may think she's throwing Mitt under her flag-festooned One Nation bus, she's actually the ride he's been waiting for.
LOOK AT ME!
As the Republican presidential field seemed to finalize in recent weeks, it looked like the worst possible formation for Romney. Instead of a group of opponents clawing at each other to be the "anti-Romney" choice, most of the big names stepped aside, leaving that role to Pawlenty. Pawlenty is perfectly positioned to consolidate the evangelical, Tea Party, and establishment Republicans — none of whom have much love for Romney. (See "Anyone But Mitt," This Just In, May 27, 2011.)
In fact, Romney seemed to recognize the trouble he was in. After long avoiding Iowa and downplaying the importance of that state's evangelical-dominated caucuses — which he is unlikely to win — Romney just made his first trip there and began putting staff together. The fear, especially with Mike Huckabee opting not to run, and Jon Huntsman skipping Iowa, is that Pawlenty will dominate Iowa, sweep the South, and be unstoppable.
The only thing stopping Pawlenty — or, if not him, one of the long-shot conservative alternatives — from shooting up in polls and fulfilling this plan was the lack of media attention needed to increase name recognition.