Suddenly, Sarah Palin's Presidential chances seem to be improving. She has waded into any number of primary races, and ended up making successful endorsements of insurgent candidates. She retains high name recognition, vocal supporters, and the ability to raise large sums of money.
But I think she has a tough road to the nomination. Her base will consist primarily of evangelicals, tea partiers, and women. She has plenty of competition for those groups, save for women. There is a decent chance Mike Huckabee -- who won the Iowa caucus because of evangelical support -- will run. At a minimum, this will give Palin trouble with this group. And with his credentials as a pastor, he may well manage to pull in a plurality or even majority of evangelicals.
With tea partiers, Palin will likewise have plenty of competition. Governors like Mitch Daniels will be able to point to lengthy records of balancing budgets. In the Senate, someone like James DeMint (R-South Carolina) could run. There are simply lots of Republicans who have given rhetorical support to the tea party, and a smaller but still significant number who have reduced taxes and government. They may not now be as well-known as Palin, but they'll have over a year to build needed name recognition.
Palin can never be the establishment pick, although it's debatable how much being the establishment's pick really helps anymore. In any case, I expect establishment Republicans to support someone like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty whom the establishment will perceive to have a better chance of winning the fall election, and whom it may deem to be more qualified to be President.
So Palin won't get the establishment's support, and she'll be given a run for her money for tea partiers and evangelicals. That is before we get into the issue of electability. Tea partiers and evangelicals may like Sarah Palin a lot. But at the end of the day, I suspect many of them will follow William F. Buckley's old rule of supporting the most conservative Republican who was electable. After all, the stakes are high for conservatives. Obama has already won the biggest expansion of the welfare state in a generation with healthcare reform and the largest stimulus bill in history. Who knows what he might do with another mandate in 2012? Conservatives believe the country's future hangs in the balance and that Obama absolutely must go.
That conviction may ultimately prove Palin's undoing. Nominating someone who wasn't electable would cost the party the White House, but it might also hurt in down-ballot races where the top of the ticket has some influence. Tea partiers who believe Armageddon is upon us will support the person who offers the greatest chance of avoiding it. Sarah Palin just may not be it.
A look at the earliest states reveals the obstacles even more clearly. Mike Huckabee will give her a run for her money in Iowa. In New Hampshire, conservatives who don't share her social views may well back a Mitch Daniels or Jim DeMint. In South Carolina of course, she would have to deal with Huckabee again, who nearly won in 2008.
Again, that is not to say that Palin cannot win. But if I were her, I certainly wouldn't be planning on moving into the White House just yet, whatever endorsement success I might have had in the previous year.