If Sarah Palin Runs in 2012, Who Benefits?

by Benjamin Domenech on 10:21 pm August 31, 2010

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The rumors of Sarah Palin’s 2012 campaign are unceasing, and it’s possible there’s fire and not just smoke here. She’s demonstrated her power as an endorser in key primary states and across the country; she’s fundraised for everyone under the sun; she’s written one bestseller and is about to release another; and her celebrity star has been unceasing among the Tea Party set.

It remains my view that Palin would be incredibly foolhardy to run for president in 2012. She has a great gig now — no one is questioning her qualifications to be a national grassroots leader or talking head — where she’s making money and doesn’t have to take Q&A. Palin may well be overestimating her support — people give to her as donations to a martyr and as a way of sticking a thumb in the eye of the left. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want her to be president.

Yet let’s assume she does run in 2012 — who stands to benefit? In an odd way, of all the potential candidates, I think it’s Newt Gingrich who benefits the most.

It’s about the money, mostly. Gingrich may seem like old news to the insider class in Washington — David Paul Kuhn does a good job of explaining why — but he’s thriving as a fundraiser, with a set of supporters which overlaps the Tea Party set but is more traditionally conservative. His committed donor base at American Solutions overlaps with Palin’s, but to a lesser degree than Haley Barbour’s or Mitt Romney’s.

Gingrich, Barbour, and Palin are the proven national fundraisers in the race — Romney can still self-fund, and Pawlenty, Pence and Daniels have smaller national standings. So while Gingrich may be hurt, he may also benefit both by seeing some of his opponents suffer. There will be a mad scramble to become the coalescing force for anti-Palin sentiment on the right, and Gingrich’s brand of intellectual debating skill has a great deal of appeal for both an older set of Republicans, who view him as an icon, and a younger set, which has forgotten or never saw many of his failings as a legislative leader.

So you’re left with a contest of two divisive celebrities both with self-inflicted scars and both mustering preexisting national followings. Gingrich’s path for a nomination only works if he divides the support of social conservatives among other candidates (his baggage on this count being heaviest), something that I believe Palin would exacerbate — and in a field of governors, it diminishes his lack of executive experience to be pitted against someone whose tenure in office was so brief. The upshot is that I suspect a Palin candidacy would drive out Pence and Huckabee, force Romney and Pawlenty to the middle, shrink Daniels’ support to the non-Ron-Paul-minded libertarians, and steal away a host of donors who otherwise would’ve gone to Barbour. It pits Palin’s folksy quips against Gingrich’s history-drenched stemwinders. All this serves to help Gingrich’s standing, and cement him as the smart alternative to the Mighty She.

Of course, this list doesn’t include John Bolton. And that, my friends, could change everything.

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