4. Sarah Palin (Not in the 2007 list)

Former Alaska governor

Palin came from nowhere in terms of the public consciousness in 2008 to become an instant political and media star who is vilified and lauded in equal measure. Things have not been smooth for Palin. Clearly unprepared to be a national candidate, John McCain rolled the dice when he chose her as his vice-presidential running mate. Initially, it seemed to pay off. She delivered a masterful speech at the Republican convention in St Paul, Minnesota, electrified a Republican base that had been distinctly underwhelmed by McCain – and the GOP nominee briefly edged ahead in the polls. It soon became apparent, however, that the McCain campaign was divided over whether Palin was an asset or a liability. They shielded her from the press, wounded her confidence and then plonked her in front of network anchors who made her look foolish and tongue-tied.

Rather than go back to Alaska, become a first-class governor, study policy issues and gently reintroduce herself to the “Lower 48” states in due course, Palin decided to do something entirely different. Stating that “only dead fish go with the flow”, she resigned the Alaska governorship, published a book that broke publishing records and, this week, signed on as a Fox News contributor. It remains unclear whether Palin intends to run for President – she may well genuinely not know herself – but she will certainly be one of conservatism’s most influential figures for the forseeable future. Rich Lowry of National Review described her as “an isotope designed to course throughout our politics and culture, lighting up press bias, self-congratulatory liberalism, Christianity-hating secularism, and intellectual condescension wherever they are found”. Whether she could be a saviour for Republicans or doom them to continued irrelevance is a question that will continue to divide conservatives across America.