Huckabee’s taken potshots at her from time to time, but between this fusillade from unnamed Mitt advisors and the furious counterattack on Romney at Conservatives 4 Palin, I’d say that the 2012 primary is now, at long last, officially on.

In the immortal words of Greg Stillson, “The missiles are flying. Hallelujah.”

Still, few express much regard for Palin’s ultimate chances. One adviser to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and, by traditional standards, the putative 2012 frontrunner, says of Palin, “She’s not a serious human being.” Another Romney intimate warns, “If she’s standing up there in a debate and the answers are more than 15 seconds long, she’s in trouble.”

One of the most experienced Republican national political operatives in the country suggests that while Palin might be envied and sleek, she lacks the endurance required for a protracted nomination fight. “She’s like a cheetah. She can run really fast, but not really long.” In the end, this school of thought about Palin goes, she is too polarizing to be seen as likely to beat Barack Obama, and Republicans will be too hungry in 2012 to risk nominating someone who could cost the party the White House — maybe even in a landslide…

Such a disjointed field can only provide more encouragement for Palin.
And nothing would make the White House happier. The President’s political advisers, troubled by the weak economy and Obama’s image as a big spender, are more worried than he is about re-election and more worried than they let on publicly. Obama himself has told people that he believes the Tea Party movement will still be going strong in 2012, leaving the party to go into battle against an incumbent with a candidate too far right to win. In fact, the President’s advisers believe that if Palin is the nominee, New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, could enter the race as an independent, scrambling all the conventional rules yet again.

Bloomberg as a self-funded stalking horse for his pal Barry intent on taking down the GOP? Why, that sounds … entirely plausible, actually. As for the nastiness about her being unserious, righties as respected as Krauthammer and George Will have made the same point. And I’ve noted before myself that, given the media’s obsession with painting her as a female Quayle, she’d have to be virtually perfectly on the trail for more than a year to avoid that narrative. The tiniest, most innocent flub — think Bush being quizzed on the names of foreign diplomats — will be hyped into the second coming of the Katie Couric interview, with the press breathlessly insisting that no sane person would vote for such a doofus. Can she be that perfect on the trail? Can any human being, including Barack “Bitterly cling to guns and religion” Obama?

Follow the link and read all of that piece, actually, if only for the bit about Bush and Cheney both reportedly pushing their old pal Mitch Daniels to GOP movers and shakers. Given the reviving influence of Team Dubya over the party’s establishment, I wouldn’t underestimate Daniels’s ability to burst out of obscurity quickly via a huge push from prominent Republican donors and groups. And speaking of quick bursts, more on Palin from Mark Halperin:

She would be the only woman against a half-dozen or more Republican men. As long as she leaves the door to a race open, she can freeze the field, prevent other GOP hopefuls from gaining much traction, keep the media in a perpetual will-she-or-won’t-she frenzy and jump into the race whenever she likes. That would be impossible for an ordinary candidate, but Palin could splash in as late as November 2011, just a few months before the voting begins. There is no deadline for signing up for the Iowa caucuses, and when it comes to competing in early-state contests, she will have a far easier time than any previous insurgent. Her candidacy would require almost none of the usual time sinks that force politicians to jump in early: power-broker schmoozing, schedule-intensive fundraising, competitive recruitment of experienced strategists, careful policy development. She would have immediate access to cash, with even small Internet donations likely bringing in millions.

Fred Thompson splashed into the last primary late, but not as late as November. Then again, Fred wasn’t the grassroots phenomenon that Palin is and he suffered from the perception that his late start was due to him not caring quite as much about winning as the rest of the field. That wouldn’t be the case with Palin; her late entry would be seen as calculated for dramatic effect, which would probably give her boost. And the point about small donations is well taken: Romney’s PAC has dwarfed hers in fundraising so far this year, but according to the Globe, most of the money’s come from events and large donors. By contrast, three-quarters of SarahPAC’s haul came from small donors. That’s not good news for her in terms of raw numbers — Mitt can almost certainly use big-money bundlers to crush whatever amount she’d rake in from grassroots contributors — but the media will go bonkers for a storyline about plucky blue-collar conservatives trying to propel Palin to victory against the Romney fortune one five-dollar donation at a time. And of course, that media coverage will be worth millions in itself. Remember: The default press narrative in 2012 will be Palin vs. Anti-Palin, with the task for Romney, Daniels, or whoever emerges as her nemesis to try to embody the good qualities the Anti-Palin is supposed to have — smart, competent, experienced — while avoiding the bad ones (elitist, white-collar, uncharismatic). As such, they’d better be awfully careful with how far they push the condescension towards her, especially given the potential alluded to by Halperin for gender politics to enter this race.

For what it’s worth, former McCain associate Mark McKinnon thinks she’s going to run even though neither she nor the country are ready for it. Note well his point at the end about what a Palin loss in the primary would mean; given the fervor her supporters are known for and the likelihood that the race will turn nasty, he’s totally right about the possibility of devastating party divisions in the general election. Exit question: Some Palin critics are speculating that the Bristol/Levi tabloid wedding announcement was secretly blessed by Sarah. Um, given the fact that her alleged unseriousness is already a major political liability for her, why on earth would she do that?