Despite his denials, he and Nicolle Wallace have always been prime suspects in the leaks aimed at her by unnamed McCain staffers, thanks in part to tense campaign-era e-mail exchanges between Palin and Schmidt having magically appeared in print a few months ago. I guess he figures he’s going to take a beating in her new book, so here he is landing the first punch:

“I think that she has talents, but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican candidate in 2012, and in fact, were she to be the nominee, we would have a catastrophic election result.”

“In the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond the base. … Th[e] independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012. That middle of the electorate is going to be determinative of the outcome of the elections. I just don’t see that if you look at the things she has done over the year… that she is going to expand that base in the middle.”

Schmidt is the highest ranking former member of McCain’s inner circle to openly criticize Palin. He has largely remain silent since the election, being one of the few McCain staff members privy to entire vice presidential selection process. Partisan political allies have blamed Schmidt for unflattering leaks — including the famous, unattributed quote that Palin had “gone rogue” in the final weeks of the campaign. Schmidt has denied being the source of the leaks, though he has acknowledged tensions with Palin during the campaign.

There’ll be no such thing as a “catastrophic” GOP nominee so long as unemployment remains in the toilet, which, given today’s worse-than-expected numbers — including a real rate of 17 percent if you include “discouraged workers” — it looks set to do for a bad long awhile. Here’s the obligatory link to the updated chart at Innocent Bystanders comparing the actual rate to The One’s moronic pre-stimulus fantasyland projections. Note that the White House has unemployment projected for 5.5 percent or so in late 2012, a number that’s likely to haunt them during the next campaign. So long as things are this tough, Obama won’t have a cakewalk against anyone, Palin included.

But that avoids Schmidt’s basic point, i.e. would nominating Palin give The One a better chance than nominating someone else? She does have trouble with independents, although she may be in the process of addressing that by refashioning herself as a strong-form libertarian. She has huge problems with women. And given the image that’s taken hold of her, in Krauthammer’s words, as someone unduly dependent on “platitudes and cliches,” nominating her would turn an election that’s supposed to be a referendum on Obama’s first term into a referendum on whether Sarah Palin knows what she’s talking about. Every misstep and error when discussing policy on the trail will be magnified through the lens of the Tina Fey “I can see Russia from my house” nonsense; the Democrats and the media will frame her as a female Dan Quayle and contrast Obama’s four years of presidential experience with centrists’ doubts about her qualifications. It’s not that she’ll have to be able to talk policy as fluently as any other candidate, she’ll have to be able to talk about it more fluently to scrub the media image of her as an ignoramus. It’s not impossible but … it’s tough.

Schmidt obviously realizes, though, that she’ll have huge right-wing grassroots/media support in the primary; read down towards the end of the Atlantic piece linked above and you’ll find him warning that “The leadership of the party cannot be outsourced to the conservative-entertainment complex.” Does the “conservative-entertainment complex” really have that much power, though? Exit quotation:

The rise of Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the rest has correlated almost perfectly with the decline of the G.O.P. But it’s not because the talk jocks have real power. It’s because they have illusory power, because Republicans hear the media mythology and fall for it every time.

Update: Here’s the clip of Schmidt, anticipating that he’ll come off in Palin’s book as “anti-rogue.”