Time Is What Prevents Everything From Happening At Once.
The big question for me is "what is the shelf life of Palin and of Palinism? I think that Palin's shelf life is actually going to be rather short--longer perhaps than any other failed VP candidate in American history but short in political life terms. Palinism is another story. That will be with us as long as there is a Republican Party and a retro/angry white base for it to lean on.
The important thing to remember about Palin as a candidate for any national office is that it takes way more than for "Barkis to be willing." The Candidate proposes but the national party, the money men, and the talented managerial staff (in the end) dispose. McCain essentially failed into the nomination during the last round of Republican Primaries. That is, his other competition, each with their varying bases, finances, friends, connections and staffs canceled each other out and he was the last man standing. But at that point all the money and staff came to him. They ran a lousy campaign but his campaign managers were far from inexperienced. The first hurdle for Palin is going to be putting together an actual crack team next time around. She may be able to get the best people, or she may not.
McCain had OK people running his campaign, but they were, of course, hampered by the fact that McCain's logical voters were unexcited by him. That's why they brought Palin on. They explicitly wanted to get the well organized Evangelical Church turnout going. That's a base that's really sturdy. But is that really Sarah's base now? I'm not so sure. There seems to be a big overlap between the Tea Baggers/Dick Armey's tools and Palin's public fan base. But these are all different things. For one thing, despite Dick's best efforts, the Tea Baggers are proving to be difficult to herd and are currently suing each other left right and right of center. This, needless to say, is going to be a serious energy suck and if they can't get the problem under control the Tea Baggers as an authentic populist movement are going to be really hamstrung. Worse (from their point of view) they will become unable to organize anything at the grassroots, let alone voter registration and turn out.
Which brings us back to the actual Evangelical Churches/Mega Churches/Christian right. Are they really going to be Sarah's base? I can't tell. I've got no particular insight into this. To my mind Sarah has a problem with (some) portion of the truly right wing religious in this country. I know some women chose to vote "third party" because they did not approve of her working outside the home although they did approve, of course, of the five kids, the religiosity, and the unaborted baby. But those women tend to be extremely anti government--Sarah actually blotted her copybook further with them by claiming that she would encourage some kind of government action on behalf of special needs children once she was in the White House. Every attempt to reach out to Independents/people who don't hate and fear government was seen as a betrayal by this faction.
Perhaps that is neither here nor there. What matters for this group as a whole is the hierarchy and what they think. But are they going to throw their weight behind Palin early enough, as well as late enough, to push her to the top of the candidate field? That is going to depend on who else is running. All things being equal if they can get a respectable, responsible, handsome, male in that role they are going to prefer that. Not least because after following the last campaign they must be as aware as McCain and his team are that Sarah can't be controlled and channeled. On this blog we've been talking a lot about what Sarah's fans think, or see, but the truth of the matter is that the big money people, and the big mega church people, are as important in this mix. They, too, are watching Sarah on this unofficial campaign tour. Every misstep, every public lie, every little bit of ugliness and every piece of information is being watched. And when those guys watch Sarah at work they are going to be balancing her undeniable crowd appeal/fundraising success against the fact that they won't be able to reach any real agreement with Sarah about how the next campaign is going to be run, or how the country is going to be run. The principle fact of Palin's life is that she is extremely stupid, self interested, and unteachable. I don't say that because I don't like her. I say that because of what she says about herself and how she describes the campaign. People worked for McCain because they loved him and people are extremely forgiving of men, especially (sniff) war heroes when they are cranky assholes. They are incredibly unforgiving of women. And they are scared of them--scared of their uncontrollable angers, whims, and confusions. We need to factor that inherent sexist imbalance into the picture before we can begin to think realistically about how Dobson et al are going to approach the early funding and backing of Palin.
Which is a long winded way of saying that a few years is a long time in political life. And its a longer time in a woman's life. Palin has the unenviable task of keeping herself in the public eye, and respectably so, for two years before she even starts officially running. Of course she can do it. She is at least as well equipped as previous right wing darlings like Coulter to show up at important events, punditing, etc... And, of course, not holding any kind of public office or job means that she can freely pontificate on any topic without fear of having to put any of her theories into practice. That's all good. Its the same route Huckabee has chosen, though less successfully, to keep his name in the public's eye. But the longer she's in the public eye the more chances she and her entourage have to descend into farce, or disaster, a la Jon and Kate plus Eight--or even a la Princess Diana. Live as a Celebrity mother/sex object and die the same way. McCain bet the farm that she would serve her purpose before he ran out of electoral time. And he was wrong. Essentially she's running the same gambit--can she run out the clock on her own flaws and imperfections as a role model, political actor, and campaigner?
If she can't make it over the hump and gain the nomination for her party in 2011 what's next for Palin? Can she can continue on as a cult figure, like Ron Paul or Nader or Perot? I think she can, but not in a very meaningful way. But every year we move away from her original burst onto the stage the voting population that supports her will get older and whiter and less relevant. Will their kids be as excited by her? Because if not, appealing to Palin's popularity will, in a few years, become as mythic and strange as the recent appeals back to Reagan. The old geezers keep talking about him but most of the younger voters simply have no idea what they are talking about. She's been compared to Nixon, but she's no Nixon. She is not now, and never will be, the successful architect and manager of her own career on the national stage. She either has the backing, or she will fail. She's been compared to Buchanan and to Gingerich. There, I think, the comparison holds a bit more water. As I said before in the post "Imitation of Life" there's plenty of money to be made punditing around on the basis of having been an also ran, at least for Republicans. I can well imagine Palin having a niche market in sound bites and pundit interviews for a very long while to come. But other than bitching and sniping and lying (and I mean that perfectly analytically) she doesn't actually have much to say so if that's her goal she will end up some kind of Fox News figure with relatively little significance--she'll always say the same thing. The same people will listen to her, and the same people will ignore her. She will cease to be an important figure because she will cease to surprise or to lead.
But what of Palinism? That, I think, will be around for a long time since its just the latest avatar of anti-government, white ressentiment, christianist hand-wringing, apocalyptic, faux small town nostalgia. Because its all those things at once, and they are neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive, expect to see Palinism (once it is freed of Palin herself) fragmenting and re-arranging itself around various hysterias--sometimes anti-tax, sometimes anti-gay sometimes hyper-patriotic sometimes extremely anti-government (and these are of course, sometimes the same thing). But without a polar figure around whom to dance it will not succeed so as soon as Palin is no longer sucking up the oxygen the various segments of her following will be looking for a new icon to worship.