GOP leadership's new mission after midterms: Stop Sarah Palin

“There is a determined, focused establishment effort … to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin,” said one prominent and longtime Washington Republican. “We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her.”

This sentiment was a nearly constant refrain in POLITICO interviews with top advisers to the candidates most frequently mentioned as running in 2012 and a diverse assortment of other top GOP officials…

Limbaugh did not respond directly to an e-mail request for comment, but he did mention the inquiry about establishment antipathy to Palin on his radio show. “It could also be they’re scared to death that [if] Palin wins, it’s the end of them — the Republican establishment,” Limbaugh said…

The gathering presidential campaigns-in-waiting anticipate what amounts to two competing GOP primaries: one to win the backing of the party’s establishment, another to represent the tea party crowd. In past elections, voters of Iowa and New Hampshire have been resistant to highly partisan candidates, and GOP presidential nominees have historically gone to establishment-backed candidates over insurgents. Then again, that has also been true of GOP Senate primaries — which decidedly was not the case this past year…

Few, if any, Republican officials want to challenge Palin’s credentials in public, but most speak dismissively and condescendingly about her in private. They think she would kill Republican chances with independents and conservative Democrats frustrated with Obama’s expansive agenda.