Public Policy Polling released a poll of possible Republican presidential contenders yesterday, putting Sarah Palin in fourth place behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and even Newt Gingrich.  All four are within a few points of each other, and the data comes from the same outfit which assured us Doug Hoffman would sweep New York’s 23rd district by double digits, so the poll should be taken with a grain of salt.  Unfortunately, the government says we can’t have salt anymore, so I guess we’ll have to take it seriously.

To a Palin admirer, it seems strange she would be in fourth place.  She’s been locked in a steel cage match with the Administration since the day after Obama was inaugurated, while Romney, Huckabee, and Gingrich have been quietly watching the show and hoping she doesn’t tap them in.  Why would a significant percentage of Republican voters choose one of the others over her?

Part of the answer lies in the concept of electability, which Republican voters tend to judge by how easily they think the media can scare independents away from the candidate.  Over two years out from the election, every prospective GOP candidate is running against the evil twin voters imagine is growing in a pod behind the offices of CBS News.  Mitt Romney stands beneath the anvil of Massachusetts health care, suspended over his head by a badly fraying rope.  Huckabee conjures images of secular voters running in terror from a giant church revival tent.  The media can barely keep from giggling as they fondle the doorknob of the closet containing Newt Gingrich’s skeletons.

Palin has a mob of character assassins following her around and sharpening their knives.  Her evil twin is particularly scary to Republican voters, because they’ve already seen it burst from its pod and do a couple of turns on Saturday Night Live. There is also the matter of her resignation from the governorship of Alaska.  In the long run, this wouldn’t be fatal to her prospects with either Republicans or the larger electorate, in a “neener-neener she’s-a-quitter” sense… although she had better be prepared to deal with that meme.  There’s another reason why the resignation hurts Palin, even with Republican voters who are generally well disposed toward her.

Other politicians, including the current President, resigned from their positions too, breaking loud promises to the contrary.  They quit in order to satisfy their ambitions for higher office, which caused the resignations to deal less political damage.  Many voters saw Palin resigning from politics, not merely the governor’s office.  She’s moved into the media, becoming an author and commentator.

This doesn’t matter much to those who have followed her adventures over the past year closely, and seen her decimate the Administration with a deft slash of her Facebook page.  It doesn’t matter at all to those already eager to vote for her.  It does matter to a party that still sings mournful songs of Fred the Grey, who fell asleep and tumbled off the bridge of Moria before the Balrog even showed up.  The election of 2012 will be a savage battle, and all the arrows coming at Palin will be dipped in poison.  The Republican electorate would like to see some x-rays of the fire in her belly before they get behind her.

Some of the softness in Palin’s support is probably sympathetic.  She’s doing great work for the conservative cause as a private citizen, and enjoying an incredibly successful career.  Her quest for the White House would be a roller coaster leading into a meat grinder.  There’s a quivering lunatic in a tattered lab coat hanging around the loading platform, mumbling something about discovering the real mother of her son.  Is she ready to strap her family into that ride again?  Would anyone blame her for deciding not to?

Personally, I hope she does.  The Anchoress touches on an important reason why, in the course of expressing her reservations about Palin’s more energetic supporters:

But Palin’s base needs to calm down a little, and realize that when they act like the rightwing version of gaga-eyed Obamabots, they’re not helping their candidate. There is no such thing as a “perfect” person, certainly no such thing as a “perfect” politician, and when I hear someone refer to Palin as “my Sarah,” or I get an email from someone for daring to criticize “our Sarah,” I frankly want to puke. Such emails do not convince me to “love” Sarah Palin, they actually make me distrust her political viability all the more, because I distrust emotionalism in politics.

I share her distrust for emotionalism.  I’ve said before that a large government is, by definition, more emotional than rational.  The problem is that dismantling such a government will require passion. The project must rest upon a sound, logical foundation, but there is simply no way to succeed without engaging Big Government on its own emotional terms.

The path to American renewal will be extremely difficult to follow.  The morale of our citizens will be a serious concern.  Regardless of how awful a president Barack Obama has been, the media will present his defeat in 2012 as a tragedy, bordering on a national sin.  They’ll push that meme harder as his failures pile up.  We need leadership that combines good cheer, fiery determination, and intelligent mastery of the issues.

Mitt Romney is cut from polished wood, and Newt Gingrich is origami folded from a thousand position papers, blotted with ugly scozzafava stains that may never come out.  At this moment in time, Sarah Palin is the heart and soul of the Right.  I can understand why many Republican voters might be reluctant to go into the next election with their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s the only way to win… and achieve the mandate necessary to do what needs to be done.  If she formally declares for office, some of those reluctant Republican hearts will grow stout, and the next salt-encrusted poll from PPP might look quite a bit different.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.

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