“Congressional leaders talk in private of being boxed in by commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — figures who are wildly popular with the conservative base but wildly controversial among other parts of the electorate, and who have proven records of making life miserable for senators and House members critical of their views or influence.

“Some of the leading 2012 candidates are described by operatives as grappling with the same tension. The challenge is to tap into the richest source of energy in the party — the disgust of grass-roots conservative activists with President Barack Obama and their hunger for a full-throated attack on his agenda — without coming off to the broader public as cranky and extreme…

“The debate means the argument over whether outspoken talk show hosts are reviving a beaten party or trashing its brand is likely to persist through the 2010 midterms and into the 2012 presidential primary.”

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“Buchanan established his through his 1992 primary challenge to George H. W. Bush. He won no states and few delegates, but inflicted serious damage on the president with a strong (near 40 percent) showing the New Hampshire primary and emerged as the uncontested leader of the G.O.P.’s economic nationalist wing.

“At the same tine, Buchanan’s vitriolic brand of cultural conservatism and isolationist foreign policy tendencies marked him as a frightening figure to Middle America—and to a large chunk of the Republican Party. He had a big base, yes, but he also scored alarmingly high negative ratings in polls…

“Given the trajectory of her overall poll numbers, that trend will probably intensify in the months ahead: More and more Republicans seem to be realizing that nominating Palin would, as John McCain’s old campaign manager put it, be ‘catastrophic’ for the G.O.P. This means that, if she does run (and it’s certainly possible she won’t), she’ll be a contender in Iowa and some other early states—and she may even pull off a few wins. But once it’s down to her and one other candidate, the party will unite to stop her.”