It’s not clear who should be more disappointed by Sarah Palin’s decision not to run for president – her fiercely loyal fans or Barack Obama.
Ms. Palin is arguably more dangerous to the current President as a conservative icon stirring up the Tea Party troops than she would be as a bona fide candidate to replace him.
As a non-candidate, she maintains her aura and influence. By running for president, she would only embarrass herself and the Republican Party.
The end to the meandering game of cat and mouse came late Wednesday when Ms. Palin released a letter to supporters explaining that she would not seek a spot at the top of the GOP ticket in 2012.
“When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country,” Ms. Palin wrote. “My decision maintains this order.”
From the moment the last election ended, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee has teased her fans and taunted her foes with musings about her Oval Office ambitions. The media bought it hook, line and sinker.
Only Ms. Palin knows if she ever came truly close to jumping into the race. But by waiting so long on the sidelines, she effectively let the decision make itself.
On Monday, the South Carolina Republican Party announced it would hold that state’s presidential primary on Jan. 21. The move made it all but certain that Iowa and New Hampshire will advance the dates of their primary contests to early January, instead of February as expected.
While Ms. Palin is an uncommon politician who plays by her own rules, not even she could ignore the logistical hurdles such a late entry would entail. But then again, odds are she never intended to run in the first place.
“I believe at this time that I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation’s governors, to congressional seats, to the presidency,” Ms. Palin said in her letter.
It is unlikely any of the current crop GOP contenders will be courting her for her endorsement. While Ms. Palin retains undeniable sway with the Republican rank and file, her imprimatur can alienate mainstream voters.
Indeed, Ms. Palin has the highest unfavourability rating of any politician in the country. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll out this week, two-thirds of Republicans said they did not want her to run for the party’s nomination. A late September CNN poll showed that Mr. Obama would beat Ms. Palin by 21 percentage points if an election were held now.
Yet, those numbers belie her political influence. What her support lacks in breadth, it makes up for in depth. She can mobilize her followers in ways few politicians can manage. As the Tea Party shows, intensity counts.
“I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for President,” Ms. Palin promised in her letter. “We must reduce tax burdens and onerous regulations that kill American industry and our candidates must always push to minimize government.”
Many of Ms. Palin’s fans took the news of her non-candidacy hard. Her Facebook wall was plastered with posts from devastated admirers.
“You’re [sic]name is mud among conservatives now. How dare you lead us on! We gave you our hearts,” one poster lamented.
“What if we write your name in? And you win? Will you go serve then?” another asked.
Don’t expect Ms. Palin to answer the question. She realized long ago that anticipation is much more rewarding – politically and financially – than resolution could ever be.