Consider what would’ve happened in all likelihood had Palin rebuffed McCain’s entreaties, and McCain had picked Tim Pawlenty or even Mitt Romney as his running mate. Palin would’ve been the largest beneficiary from such a move. She still would’ve had a prominent speaking slot at the national convention, and she still would’ve given a speech that wowed the audience there.
She would’ve received much kinder coverage from the media (as an interesting and unique storyline instead of a potential one-heartbeat-away unknown), likely avoiding the leftist wrath which buried her in ethics complaints, and her rising profile within the party would’ve made her an in-demand voice from a far broader swathe of the GOP beyond the Tea Party. Without being tinged by the McCain disaster, without the betrayal of McCain’s crack communications team, and without the intense resentment of the Romney clan (which began working to undermine Palin before the 2008 election was even over), Palin would’ve been far more than an inspiration for the right, but a real threat for 2012.