Sarah Palin is putting together a campaign team, and Washington is taking notice. Mark Leibovich of the New York Times described her bare-bones political operation. Here is what I know: she is not worried about fundraising right now. Pam Pryor, a former RNC senior adviser, leads Palin's political action committee and is orchestrating her outreach to social conservatives. Randy Scheunenmann remains her policy maestro, with informal assistance from his Orion Strategies colleague Michael Goldfarb, the former Weekly Standard writer and McCain campaign rapid responder. (Goldfarb did not return an e-mail seeking comment about his future in Palin's world.) Fred Malek is perhaps the single Washington establishment figure that Palin turns to, although Malek has insisted that he is neutral about the presidential race --- though he admits to having a soft spot in his heart for Palin.
Palin's opponents believe that her downfall will be an accelerated reiteration of 2008: when the broader public turned against her because she seemed vapid and nasty, rather than clever and clean -- and THAT was the censored version! And that was before the flaky and irresponsible (?) resignation as governor of Alaska. They note that Palin, having faced down the Elite Crucible and lost, now has to face the even tougher crucible of Iowa -- give her three or four months there and see if she survives. (If she DOES survive, how could she NOT be the nominee?)
This isn't just an ideological point, but one of substance and positioning -- she is a candidate of grievance and anger, a candidate sharpest when she is running against something, not for something. These candidates do great on the stump, rally strong supporters, and can eventually mount substantial challenges -- but they usually don't win, even the nomination. Palin is best when she is pushing off some "outrage": the Alaska establishment, the McCain handlers, David Letterman, GOP moderates -- even Obama.
Palin lacks a vision for the nation. At this point, it helps her -- (we can agree to disagree whether this is intentional or not) that she is vague; specificity will come in time, and dropped too soon, it would ladle her with the disadvantages of being a legislator (putting a marker down on issues w/o knowledge of future events) without any of the advantages (e.g. gravitas) one gets by holding office.
At some point, she will have to expand her circle beyond her comfort zone; she is a machine that can make money and news right now, and it might help her make a decision to run; if not, the machine helps her make money and "fish for salmon," as one Republican put it. Palin surrounds herself with a loyal and dedicated group, but one that is not ready to run a presidential campaign. Only she and Todd Palin can decide whether she can trust anyone connected with the establishment -- and doing so will require personal growth.
(If this sounds like a version of the Mike Huckabee strategy -- find a platform, get good with Fox -- it is -- except that money seems to avoid Huckabee like snowplows have avoided my street in DC.)
Resentment without a vision is a wind that's blowing at Palin's back, but it'll become a tailwind as it limits her salience to those without the mental habits of Ross Perot/Wallace-type voters. There is also a bit of overconfident condescension in her sing-song cadence, that, to liberals, reads as "stupid" and to conservatives, reads as if she is obsessed with her own personal grievances.
She really does need a bigger piece of the pie. The Republican corporate establishment does not trust her , and in real terms they're about 1/3 to 2/5 of the GOP base. Palin may channel Nixon, but she's no Dick Nixon just yet.
"There will be a space out there for someone who is the response to thoughtfully addressing our challenges when the successes aren't always obvious," said one Democrat who will play a prominent role in Obama's 2012 re-election. "She could very well be that answer."
"No she won't," I replied -- testing this comment. "She will fill the anger space. But if 2010 were 2012, she would win the nomination."
"Those spaces aren't mutually exclusive," this Democrat replied.