“‘I am,’ Sarah Palin told me the next day when I asked her if she was already weighing a run for president. ‘I’m engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here.’ Palin went on to say that there weren’t meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls ‘but that in fact there’s more to the presidency than that” and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table.

“‘Yes, the organization would have to change,’ Palin said during an hourlong phone conversation. ‘I’d have to bring in more people — more people who are trustworthy,’ she clarified. Palin said that her experience as John McCain’s running mate was for the most part ‘amazing, wonderful, do it again in a heartbeat.’ But she added, ‘What Todd and I learned was that the view inside the bus was much better than underneath it, and we knew we got thrown under it by certain aides who weren’t principled’ and that ‘the experience taught us, yes, to be on guard and be very discerning about who we can and can’t trust in the political arena.’…

“These actions bespeak a calculating shrewdness on Palin’s part. But then what to make of her inactions? Three months after endorsing Branstad, Palin visited Iowa for the first time since 2008 to deliver a speech but then left without scheduling any other events. And since 2008, Palin has yet to travel to New Hampshire, having turned down a triumphalist Tea Party Express rally in Concord the evening before Election Day. In both cases, her aides told me, Palin was overscheduled. But since Sarah Palin is the keeper of her own itinerary, we are left to wonder whether these omissions suggest disorganization, lack of foresight, ambivalence, distrust of politicos or some combination of the above…

“In a sense, Palin views Beltway Republicans as she does the Obama administration: aloof, self-interested and vulnerable to the populist power that she believes she wields. ‘They’re in an isolated bubble — Barack Obama mentioned that in his press conference, and I agree with him, he is isolated from what average Americans are talking about,’ she said, referring to the president’s words after the midterm elections. ‘But what he was meaning, of course, was that he’s not in touch with average Americans. I am — because that’s who I am. That’s who surrounds me, common-sense Americans who just want government on their side, not riding their backs. And I tweet to reach out to them.'”

“And then it hit me. The reason Palin has become such a lightening rod, a kingmaker and a punching bag, a celebrity and a power player, is simple. It’s because she’s so gosh darn happy.

“For her fans, like the ones I had the pleasure of meeting in Chicago, she’s refreshingly upbeat and resilient, the bubbly friend from childhood who was always great at cheering you up and cheerleading you on.

“But for her detractors, nothing raises the ire of cynical liberals more than a happy-go-lucky, totally unburdened, freethinking and self-assured conservative woman who has everything she wants and then some. And without anyone’s help…

“Sarah Palin, more than almost any other public political figure, represents the ‘can do’ rugged individualism and self-reliance that liberals fear most. She’s not just running her household. She ran her state! And in her new documentary series, we see that independent streak clear as glacier water. Whether she’s casting for salmon or scaling the rockface at Denali, she’s smiling – and just won’t quit.”

“Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing…

“One significant conservative leader who travels the country frequently and speaks with grassroots activists frequently said that he does not see Palin as their choice in 2012.

“‘I think people love to hear her speak and love that she’s out there stirring the waters and challenging the status quo,’ the conservative leader said, asking that his name not be used. ‘But I don’t get the sense that they’re ready to say, ‘She’s the one we want to see as president.”

“‘You would think if people were going to coalesce around her that would be happening. And quite frankly I don’t see it,’ he said.”