early and often

Sarah Palin, 2012

Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly.

The campaign for the presidency isn’t yet over, but people are already discussing whether Sarah Palin will be the Republican Party nominee four years from now. It seems strange, to say the least, that a politician with such a rocky and, so far, largely unsuccessful introduction on the national stage would merit such speculation. After all, she’s currently the No. 1 concern voters have about John McCain, her unfavorable numbers outweigh her favorables, and she’s solidified her place as a late-night punch line. Even many Republicans see her selection as McCain’s running mate as a fatal mistake. But in a party and campaign already splitting at its seams, many people think Palin will come out of this campaign clean, and emerge as the Republican front-runner for 2012.

• Marc Ambinder says that “McCain loyalists” suspect that “Palin is beginning to play the Republican base against John McCain” as she sets up her future run for president. Noting that she’s “talented” and “very ambitious,” Ambinder thinks that in four years, after she has “plenty of time to become fluent on national issues,” her Republican detractors will “swoon over her once more.” Historically, “Republicans tend to pick the next guy in line,” and, “strangely enough,” Palin is the next guy in line. She’ll be well financed and is “perfectly positioned” to run the “anti-government, anti-Washington campaign” that Republicans will call for after four years of Barack Obama. [Atlantic]

• Jonathan Chait flat-out predicts that Palin will be the GOP nominee in 2012. She’s “wildly popular” with the base, and the elites “seem almost as smitten.” Palin is already separating herself from the doomed McCain campaign by “suggesting that she disagrees with McCain’s decision not to emphasize Rev. Wright.” [Plank/New Republic]

• Noam Scheiber strongly disagrees with his colleague, contending “there’s zero chance of it happening” for a number of reasons, including her “Wasilla cronies” making for a weak organization, the conservatives who are probably waiting until after the election to trash her, the other candidates who will emerge, and that she’s a “novelty” that “fades by definition” over time. [Stump/New Republic]

• Chris Cillizza believes that Palin’s declining numbers and conservative naysayers “only strengthen her profile among rank and file conservatives come 2012.” And after all, “the candidate most in line with the conservative or liberal base of their party winds up winning” their primaries in most cases, and “Palin is clearly OF the conservative base in a real and meaningful way.” [Fix/WP]

• Ross Douthat agrees that Palin “might well be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination” even though she’s unpopular with the overall voting population. It “isn’t hard to see a scenario in which Palin unites evangelical voters and talk-radio conservatives … and rides that bloc to victory.” But it’s “very, very hard” to see how she could actually beat Obama once she gets the nomination. [Atlantic]

• Michael Medved notes that “defeated Vice Presidential candidates almost always disappear as contenders for party leadership.” And that should continue with Palin, who many will blame, if Obama wins, “for undermining GOP chances.” And after a loss, “it’s impossible” to imagine “dispirited” Republicans “somehow rallying around Palin.” [Town Hall]

• Jonathan Freedland thinks Palin will be the “perfect receptacle” for the Republican base’s anger against the “Washington-establishment” that broke with McCain. “Her chief problem will be visibility,” however, as her job in Alaska keeps her out of the national spotlight. [Guardian UK]

• Andrew Sullivan sums up his position on Palin’s prospects: “I think she’s a Wonderbread loaf, now very well-toasted.” [Atlantic]

• Andrew Romano points out the recent examples of Palin splitting from McCain (on Reverend Wright, robocalls, gay marriage) and wonders, is Palin saying “Hey Republicans: don’t blame me if this guy loses?” “Of all the possible 2012ers, she clearly has the largest, most ardent following,” but it’s hard to see her “cobbl[ing] together a political majority outside the GOP.” Then again, four years may be long enough to “to rehabilitate one’s public image” and “read the Constitution.” [Stumper/Newsweek]

• Vaughn Ververs believes that Palin has a “limitless” future and “will come out of this election a winner of sorts regardless of the outcome.” She’s “a quick study, an enthusiastic advocate and an energetic politician who’s become a household name,” qualities which most candidates for 2012 would be glad to have “in their corner.” [Horserace/CBS News]

Related: Sarah Palin on Her (Maybe Not Quite) $150,000 Wardrobe: ‘The Whole Thing Is Just Bad!’

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

Sarah Palin, 2012