Palin to conservative leaders: They said Reagan was unelectable too, didn’t they?

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about her huddle with 50 top Republicans in Florida. If there was any lingering doubt that she’s very seriously considering running, it just disappeared.

Speaking to a group of well-connected Republicans at a private dinner in Florida this week, Sarah Palin implicitly addressed questions about her own electability by noting that critics also said Ronald Reagan couldn’t win in 1980, three attendees told POLITICO.

Palin, at an event organized by the conservative magazine Newsmax, told the right-wing crowd that those who don’t have the same convictions will always say a true conservative can’t win.

Pointing out that the knock on Reagan was that he was also too far to the right, the former Alaska governor repeatedly invoked the 40th president and conservative icon, at one point citing the quotation he was most fond of: that America is a “shining city on a hill.”…

“I was surprised about how many people in room said ‘yes’ when I asked if they could see themselves supporting her,” said one attendee. “I was expecting to hear what you mostly hear – ‘I hope she doesn’t do it’ or, ‘She’s more effective doing what she’s doing.’”

All three sources said they were impressed with how she handled questions off-the-cuff. Her point about “true conservatives” being deemed unelectable by those who disagree with them is fair enough, although (a) as George Will once noted in writing about Palin, the naysayers sure were right about Barry Goldwater; (b) it’s been said plenty of times that the reason McCain (and Bob Dole) lost is because they didn’t stand clearly for conservative principles, which is basically this same argument in reverse; and (c) general sentiment, I think, isn’t so much that doctrinaire conservatives can’t win as it is that doctrinaire conservatives or doctrinaire liberals can’t. You know the old chestnuts as well as I do: America is a center-right nation, elections are decided by the middle 10 percent, etc etc. That’s why The One positioned himself last time as a post-partisan “pragmatist” with the sort of sharp-edged pantcreases that so impressed David Brooks and Peggy Noonan and Christopher Buckley and Kathleen Parker. It’s not that they wanted to support a true-blue liberal; it’s that they were easily suckered by his promises of centrism, which were geared precisely at attracting people like them. The money question for Palin is figuring out whether she’s Reagan or Goldwater, which may in turn depend on whether Obama is Carter or LBJ (which itself may depend on how the economy’s faring in two years). If he’s Carter, having presided over a full term of malaise and economic stagnation, then a “true conservative” can win because centrists will flock to him/her as an alternative to the loser in the White House. If he’s LBJ, with the economy having turned around (at least a little) and the media in a full-court press to frame the GOP nominee as the nuttiest of extremist wingnuts, centrists will be hard to come by. Which, of course, reminds us of the great silver lining for Obama in a Republican rout next month — by forcing him to the right to get things passed, they’ll end up giving him some centrist credentials for the 2012 election.

Exit question: While down in Florida, Palin said (and not for the first time) that she’d run “if the American people want me to.” What exactly would constitute a sign that they want her to? Because pretty much every poll for at least the past year has shown her underwater both in favorable ratings and on the question of whether she’s qualified to be president.