The Republican Party has to offer Palin the conditions in which she can admit that she isn’t, for all her demotic political strengths, the party’s ideal leader, especially not its leader into grand presidential battle. She is a person too polarizing for that, and in an election in which Obama will be scrapping furiously for re-election, scrapping furiously for his place in history, the Republican Party will need at its helm a leader who will make independent voters embrace the GOP, not turn away from it in panic. Palin is a consummate motivator of the Republican base, an accomplished preacher to the choir, more “cheer”-leader than leader. She is not a persuader, or bridge builder. She is also no fool. The debacle of Christine O’Donnell will, surely, have concentrated her mind on her own electoral shortcomings: Ideological immaculateness is all very well, but you can’t treat a presidential election as an opportunity to put on an unelectable play of purity.
Palin knows her own strengths. In all likelihood, she knows her own weaknesses even better. The Republican Party must flatter her for her strengths, all the better to use them well in the next year. Equally, it must be diplomatic about her weaknesses, alluding to them in private and not blaring them out to the nation in the incendiary manner of a Karl Rove. Palin will come to concede her electoral limitations—sooner than most people expect. And when she does, she will leave the presidential field open to a candidate better able than she to tackle Obama in 2012. That would be her finest contribution to the Republican Party. In not running herself, she will make the party electable.