But Sarah Palin's prospects look brighter than ever, from where I'm sitting, and to that effect, Ronald Brownstein pretty much nails it in his piece this morning, "Palin's Beer-Track Populism":
As a potential general election candidate in 2012, Palin still faces enormous liabilities. Independents and Democrats remain extremely cool to her. And she hasn't dented persistent doubts about her qualifications. In the 2008 exit poll, three-fifths of voters said that she was not qualified to serve as president. When Gallup reprised the question last November, 62 percent of Americans again described her as unqualified.VIDEO HAT TIP: Vets for Sarah.
But as a Republican presidential primary candidate, Palin would have formidable advantages, beginning with a passionate base and an unrivaled allure for the cameras. In that same Gallup survey, nearly two-thirds of Republicans said they would seriously consider voting for her in 2012, the same proportion that Romney received. Palin's assets in 2012 might also include the continuing demographic evolution of the GOP electorate. Just as Obama's victory over Clinton highlighted the growing influence of upscale white-collar Democrats within their party, a Palin candidacy could crystallize (and benefit from) the GOP's growing reliance on blue-collar whites who once anchored the Democratic coalition. In an underappreciated milestone for a party long considered the home of the swells, voters without a college degree cast 51 percent of the ballots in the 2008 GOP primaries, according to the cumulative analysis. The shop floor trumped the corner office.
If Palin runs, she will likely rely more on those blue-collar voters than on wine-track Republicans. In Gallup's November poll, approximately two-thirds of noncollege white Republicans said they would seriously consider her, almost exactly the same share as Romney. But notably more college-educated Republicans said they would consider Romney (72 percent) than Palin (61 percent). Even more telling, far more college-educated white Republicans considered Romney qualified for the presidency (83 percent) than said the same about Palin (just 58 percent).
Against this backdrop, some of Palin's sharpest lines from last weekend could take on a different spin. In her "tea party" speech in Nashville and appearance on Fox News Sunday (where else?), she not only derided Obama as an ineffectual, unmanly "professor of law" but also challenged the very idea of expertise as the basis for governing. "I'm never going to pretend like I know more than the next person," she insisted on Fox. "I'm not going to pretend to be an elitist."
Palin's elevation of the instinctive wisdom of heartland Americans over the rarefied knowledge of egghead elites echoed conservative arguments against Democrats dating back to Adlai Stevenson and the 1950s. But it's easy to imagine Palin trying to consolidate beer-track Republicans by directing the same attacks against Romney -- a wealthy and modulated former management consultant who radiates expertise from his crisply starched shirts to his imperturbable hair. "It does set up a fascinating contrast," says GOP consultant Michael DuHaime, McCain's 2008 political director.
One lesson from Nashville is that if Palin ever takes the leap from celebrity to presidential candidate, the populist guns that conservatives have aimed against Democrats for decades could be loudly brandished inside the Republican tent.