There will be never be a better moment. A conventional politician might bide his or her time, amass a record of solid governance, and wait for 2016, when there won’t be an incumbent on the ticket. But Palin doesn’t want to govern, at least not at the state level, as evidenced by her decision to leave the Alaska governorship. So she’d enter the 2016 race with no better qualifications than she has now, and probably face a stronger primary field. Worse, she’d be old news. What makes Palin fascinating is the contrast between her reality-TV show persona and the fact that a major party nominated her for vice president. The further she gets from that legitimizing event, the more she’ll seem like just another tabloid wacko.
The conventional wisdom is that the Republican establishment will rally around whoever it needs to defeat Palin. But that might not be so easy. With Mike Huckabee, John Thune and Haley Barbour all skipping the race, Palin could claim much of the social-conservative vote. Yes, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann play in that space, but they’re chihuahuas. Palin is the big dog. Her support among Christian evangelicals would prove particularly valuable in Iowa, whose low-turnout caucuses reward intensity of support, not breadth. In Iowa, passion can beat organization: In 2008, Huckabee beat Mitt Romney there by nine points. And in Iowa, extremism is no vice: Pat Robertson beat George H.W. Bush there in 1988. It’s the perfect state for her.