Enigma isn't the first word that comes to mind when we think of Sarah Palin. Thanks to her reality show we know her preferred lounge-wear (hoodies and shorts), while a steady stream of Facebook and Twitter postings have familiarized us with her favorite abbrevi8ns and emoticons. And yet Palin has managed to cultivate an air of mystery around one question: Will she or won't she seek the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential race?
Navigate over to places like Politico, and you'll find a story practically every time Palin sneezes, parsing whether she's sending a signal about a possible run. It's hard to keep up, but like it or not, Palin's decision will have important implications for the 2012 race. For those of you who are interested in knowing which way the wind is blowing but don't have the energy for the project, DoubleX presents "Wasilla or the White House?" We'll update you frequently on how likely she seems to run—tracking her mentions in the press, monitoring how often she tweets, and auguring what we can from her Facebook page. If Palin says definitively that she's not going to seek the nomination, our meter will spin to zero (Wasilla). If she promises dispositively that she'll mount a campaign, it lands on 100 percent (White House). But first, for those of you haven't been keeping up with Palin's stutter-steps, a quick primer on events to date that might reflect (or impact) her inclination to run.
Signs She Might Stay in Wasilla
It's been a rough few months for Palin: There was the Arizona shooting, which brought scrutiny of her infamous crosshairs imagery, which led her to cry "blood libel," all of which had pundits saying she was "finished." That's obviously not the case, but the episode did make any presidential aspirations seem more far-fetched. As did her latest PR disaster, a story from Wonkette claiming that Palin had constructed a puppet Facebook account, "Lou Sarah," in order to write favorable comments about … Sarah Palin. Not exactly statesmanlike.
This is just one of the mounting indications that Palin might not have the temperament or inclination to try for the executive branch again. See also the recently leaked draft of a former aide's tell-all memoir, which paints Palin as a loose-lipped grudge-holder. Running for president requires a very thick skin, as Karl Rove and others have pointedly observed. Does she want to put herself and her family through the wringer again? Running for president is also very hard work—and probably work that wouldn't actually win her the job, if preliminary polls are any indication. And does Palin seem interested in work for work's sake? Not if the tales of her refusal to prep for debates and interviews in '08 and of the short hours she kept as Alaskan governor are to be believed. Casting even more doubts on the prospect of a Palin run, as Mike Allen observed last week in Politico, she apparently hasn't reached out to top GOP donors or strategists, who are being snatched up by other potential candidates.
Still, even if the liberal media doesn't believe Palin is suited for a run, there are plenty of people who do, right? Well, not lately—Palin's loyalists haven't been acting terribly loyal. In '08, Palin was sprinkled with crucial intellectual cachet by smitten conservative outlets like the Weekly Standard. But in November, the magazine published Matt Labash's devastating (and funny) review of her reality show, which some observers interpreted to mean she'd "lost" the Weekly Standard. The show was generally greeted with dismay among conservative intellectuals, who saw it as a final move away from any attempt at gravitas. (Her recent gambit to trademark her name probably didn't help, either.) They're not the only ones who have cooled to the idea of a Palin run: She skipped CPAC, where she was invited to be the headline speaker, and which would have been the perfect opportunity to shore up support with her base—and they didn't seem to mind that much.
Signs She Might Be Running
Still, there are indications that Palin might be gearing up for a race. SarahPAC still has cash left over from the 2010 cycle—$1,328,951—and there's more where that came from. (She was able to raise nearly $5.6 million during an election cycle when she wasn't even running.) She hired a chief of staff (a veteran of the McCain campaign) in February, the clearest sign yet that a campaign is in the works. Palin has also given interviews on Egypt and has scheduled a trip to India in mid-March, indicating that she might be keen on shaking the idea that seeing Russia from her house is the extent of her foreign-policy bona fides. (Certainly the Palin Doctrine could use some refinement. Regarding Egypt, she offered this: "We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with.")
Palin has also continued to hint coyly at a run in public appearances. Before a speech in Iowa (Iowa!) last fall she said that if Americans are seeking "for someone willing to shake it up...of course I would give it a shot." And last month, in a Long Island speech in which she again said a run was on the table, Palin indicated that she is giving thought to the specific challenges she would face: "I look at those poll numbers and say, if I'm going to do this then obviously I have to get out there. I can't rely on a liberal leaning press to do that for you. That's why social media is going to be so important." Gr8!
Then there is the question of the first GOP debate, to be held at the Reagan Library on May 2. Palin was initially scheduled to speak at a dinner honoring veterans that evening, a conflict that doubters regarded as meaningful—but the booking proved so divisive that the dinner has since been cancelled entirely. No word yet on how she'll spend the evening, but the opening on her schedule is intriguing.
The final thing that cannot be discounted is the gone-rogue factor. Palin demonstrably delights in zagging when all conventional wisdom tells her to zig. (Maybe you should pitch Slate, Sarah?) Perversely, being told by the media, conservative intellectuals, and party higher-ups she cannot win and so should not be a spoiler might goad her into doing just that. Which means that, as a general rule, a bad week for Sarah Palin in the press won't necessarily translate into a dip on the WOTWH meter.
This Week's Verdict:
In the end, it all comes down to how strongly Palin craves the limelight. Right now, she's the most closely watched Republican pol. She risks that status without a campaign—the media will obsess over the candidates, and perhaps inevitably her celebrity will erode (and with it, her speaking fees). It strikes us as very possible that Palin sees a clearly unwinnable race but enters it anyhow, to maintain her personal brand and to collect fodder for another book. So we start the meter at 51 percent: Palin seems slightly more likely than not to run.