Is Sarah Palin preparing to disappoint her fans?

Sarah Palin made comments on Fox News Tuesday that suggest she might be leaning against a presidential run. At this late hour in the primary season, it might be a moot point, anyway.

Stephan Savoia/AP/File
Former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin addresses a Tea Partly Express rally in Manchester, N.H., earlier this month.

Is Sarah Palin preparing her followers for disappointment? That could be. In an appearance on Fox News Tuesday, the former Alaska governor sounded a lot like somebody who was explaining to fans why it’s better that she doesn’t run for president.

Asked the obvious question by Greta van Susteren – is she in or is she out – Ms. Palin had this to say. We’ll quote the whole thing, from a Fox transcript, so you get the full idea.

“Somebody like me – is a title and is a campaign too shackling?” said Palin. “Does that prohibit me from being out there, out of a box, not allowing handlers to shape me and to force my message to be what donors or what contributors or what political pundits want it to be? Does a title take away my freedom to call it like I see it and to affect positive change that we need in this country? That’s the biggest contemplation piece in my process.”

Here’s what we think Palin’s saying there: I can have more impact as a non-candidate. Consultants won’t tell me I can’t say certain things. I won’t have to raise money by telling people what they want to hear. Fox News will still have to pay me when I appear on their shows.

OK, maybe that last one is going too far. But can you imagine anybody running for president after that kind of mini-speech? We can’t either. Palin appears to be defining her role as a purveyor of words (and by inference ideas) – not a potential wielder of power.

For serious candidates, the point of running for president is not to say what they want – it’s to get to sit in the chair in the Oval Office and run the executive branch. Mitt Romney probably daydreams about that on his campaign plane. (“President Romney, Vice President Perry has been waiting for an hour. Should I tell him lunch is off?”) His campaign message is a means to an end, not the other way round.

Palin’s posse may argue that this proves her pure independence. That may be. And given her past maverick tendencies it might be premature to predict her behavior.

“There’s absolutely no reason to rule out the possibility that she could still enter the presidential race – either as a contender for the GOP nomination or as a third party candidate,” writes Jonathan Bernstein on the Washington Post’s liberal “Plum Line” blog.

But at this point it is just about too late to mount a serious White House bid. Deadlines for candidates to get their names on primary slates begin to flip past in October. The best GOP organizers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have already been hired.

Even some conservatives, such as RedState blog editor Erick Erickson, have said Palin’s at the precipice.

“We are coming to the end of the line for Sarah Palin’s ability to string the Republican primary voters along,” he wrote – in late August.

It’s true that recent polls have shown Palin running strongly against President Obama. But every Republican is running strongly against Obama. Palin’s polls remain dismal: the latest RealClearPolitics mashup of reputable surveys shows her at 7.7 percent of the vote, behind Perry, Romney, and Ron Paul.

Palin’s Facebook page is still filled with page after page of posts from fans who are urging her to run. But some are beginning to sound a bit plaintive.

“It’s getting down to the wire are you going to run or what. I think you should but your opportunity is fleeting,” said one post on September 28.

Will Palin’s supporters have a reason to soon organize? Only the ex-Alaska governor knows – and for the moment, she’s not even telling Fox News.

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