Sarah Palin’s supporters have reason to cheer, and perhaps lament, the media news leaked to the New York Times this morning.  The former governor and VP candidate will become a Fox News analyst, signing a multi-year deal for appearances as a political pundit.  That gives Palin an even larger stage, but might mean that she’s looking at a longer game plan than some may want:

The network confirmed that Ms. Palin will appear on the network’s programming on a regular basis as part of a multi-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Ms. Palin will not have her own regular program, one person familiar with the deal said, though she will host an occasional series that will run on the network from time to time. This person would not elaborate, but the network does have a precedent for such a series. Oliver L. North is the host of an occasionally running documentary series on the military called “War Stories.”

It’s a good move on Palin’s part.  She gets more national exposure, which never hurts anyone’s political ambitions.  Fox News may be already attracting her core supporters, but her appearances will receive a great deal of scrutiny from the Left as well.  The regular to-and-fro on politics will allow Palin to expand her credibility and build a broader base of support for her political ambitions.

However, a multi-year deal may mean that Palin will wait to run for higher office.  She could either go for the Senate or the presidency next, but either way, she’d have to start building a campaign no later than a year from now.   Media outlets generally cut off analysts when they start building campaigns to avoid the necessity of giving opponents free air time for responses.  A multiyear deal doesn’t preclude the possibility of entering into a campaign in 2011, but it indicates that Palin isn’t yet envisioning such a step.

That’s not necessarily a bad idea anyway.  Palin is young and has plenty of opportunity to run for office, with 2016, 2020, and 2024 all being very realistic for her in terms of presidential campaigns.  The Fox appearances will give her an opportunity to hone her craft while keeping expectations in check.  Taking her time would be a smart move, and at least since her resignation from office, Palin has been making a series of smart moves.

But for those who wanted a Palin run in 2012, this could be a temporary disappointment.

Update: HA commenter Cubachi notes via Twitter that Roger Stone predicted this in July:

Palin has the most valuable commodity a Presidential candidate can have – a base. Between roughly 23% of Americans and 68% of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin. She alone has the kind of intense following. She alone can fill a large hall or small stadium anywhere in Republican Country. This is similar to the following that sustained Nixon through two defeats and his ‘self-destruction’ in 1962 to win the White House in 1968.

Like Nixon, Palin needs some rehabilitation to her political image caused by the relentless attacks of the elitist media, the knife-work of the relatively talentless Republican Party pros like Steve Schmidt and her own self-inflicted wounds from the post election period that were born out of inexperience at this level of political combat. Like Nixon, Palin can re-make herself in the controlled environment of television. Instead of being tortured by smug media types like Katie Couric, Palin can demonstrate her better understanding of issues and articulate a case against Obama. She can be folksy and plain-spoken and above all, ‘smart.’ All hail the Conservative Oprah!

The “New Palin” is crucial to the expansion beyond her base of true believers to be a viable presidential candidate. The obvious place for Palin to re-tool her political image is FOX television. FOX’s viewers are Palin’s potential voters. It is ironic that FOX president Roger Ailes is the genius TV producer who erased candidate Nixon’s flaws in a controlled environment and facilitated the greatest political comeback in American history, is at the helm at FOX.

Not ironic, but perhaps providential.