Is Sarah Palin's political career kaput?

Sarah Palin has decided not to run for president, and that’s probably a wise choice. Her polling numbers are dismal. But does her announcement signal the end to her political career for good?

Charlie Neibergall/ AP
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin greets supporters at The Machine Shed restaurant, in Urbandale, Iowa, in September.

Sarah Palin has decided not to run for president, and that’s probably a wise choice. At this point it’s really too late for her to put together a full-on national campaign. Plus, her numbers weren’t looking good.

One-third of Republican voters view her unfavorably, according to a just-released CBS poll. Bring in Democrats and independents, and half the US electorate thinks negative thoughts when they hear the word “Palin”.

With numbers like that, it’s hard to see how she could have won.

Yes, she might have won a primary or two. But look at the head-to-head matchups. Right now a Mitt Romney-President Obama race would be very close, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys. The two are essentially tied.

But Palin vs. Obama? That would be a blow-out. Obama leads her by almost 13 points, at 51.8 percent to 39 percent.

Given her current standing, if she’d gone ahead and run – and lost – her personal brand would have been damaged, argues Brian Montopoli of CBS News. By continuing to snow machine above the fray, she maintains her image and the market for her speeches and appearances on Fox News, Montopoli writes.

“Ultimately, it’s impossible to know for sure whether her long presidential flirtation was serious. But one thing we can say with confidence is that her decision to end it – finally – was almost certainly good news for Palin Inc.,” he says.

Well, maybe. But we’d argue that a run, instead of damaging the Palin brand, would have revealed damage that has already occurred. Isn’t it possible that, given her low standing in the polls, her national political career was already over?

Look, don’t get us wrong – there’s still going to be a huge demand for all things Palin. She’s cultivated a cadre of committed Mama Grizzly supporters. She’s got an indefinable something. An I-don’t-care-what-you-think-I’m-gonna-say attitude that will always attract attention.

We were there when she gave her big VP acceptance speech to the 2008 GOP Convention, and she blew the doors off the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Delegates were ecstatic. We think if she’d asked at that moment they all would have quit their jobs and followed her home to Wasilla.

But lucrative speeches to tea party groups or other friendly audiences are one thing. The sort of public exposure that shapes your image and maintains political viability is another.

Since 2008, Palin has followed the path of a political celebrity – a “polebrity” if you well, or a “celetician” – by appearing in her own reality show, hawking books, and appearing on Fox as a paid interviewee.

What she hasn’t done is make lots of trips to New Hampshire to meet important GOP locals, or produce Romney-like multi-point jobs plans, or spar with hostile interviewers. Those are activities which people who actually aspire to office, such as Herman Cain, often engage in.

Indeed, in a recent chat with Fox’s Greta van Susteren Palin appeared to question whether it would be worthwhile to ever serve in government again.

“Somebody like me – is a title. And is a campaign too shackling?” Palin said. “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?"

As Politico notes today, it’s hard to imagine a world in which Sarah Palin isn’t viewed as a possible presidential candidate. But it’s almost as hard to imagine the ex-Alaska governor ever putting her name on a ballot again.

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