Is her resignation a masterstroke or a blunder?
It could be the start of the 2012 presidential election campaign or it could be the end of that of 2008.Â Former Republican Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palinâ€™s decision to resign as Governor of Alaska later this month has raised a lot of questions but answered few.
In her announcement, in which she rambled and at times rivalled John Prescottâ€™s ability to string non-sequiturs together, she gave few reasons other than the pressures of sustained ethics investigations and that having decided not to re-contest the governorship, there was a need to avoid a â€˜lame duckâ€™ administration.
If she was thinking about contesting the 2012 election, spending more time outside Juneau would certainly help her profile (and her bank balance), yet the timing and nature of her announcement did little to enhance that profile and a good deal to damage it.
Indeed, watching it reminded me of when she was first introduced to the wider world before the Republican convention. Then, she looked like she was attending hustings for a small-town mayoral election; her resignation speech was equally lacking in coherence, big ideas and gravitas.
A particularly strange argument advanced is the assertion that she can work at least as well towards her unspecified goals out of office as in it, free from the partisan bickering that comes with the job. Thatâ€™s either untrue (the powers that come with high office are never irrelevant) or an admission of a complete failure in her leadership. Either way, it canâ€™t be helpful to a future presidential bid.
Despite all that, she remains popular with vocal sections of the Republican base, a base that will play no small part in deciding the GOP nomination for 2012.
Assuming she avoids a serious scandal in the next year – an assumption that isnâ€™t too safe – sheâ€™ll have to opportunity to speak to many of them at events that are either specifically fundraisers or at least laying the ground for a future network.
The bookies are certainly playing it safe with regard to her chances: the best odds available are with Paddy Power, who offer 10/1 for the presidency and 8/1 for the GOP nomination (which of the two, appears much better value). Against this, the last traded price at the time of writing on Betfairâ€™s market for the 2012 presidential election was 39/1 – a figure which looks to me much more realistic, though for a similar price, Tim Pawlenty seems a better bet.
Most Republican candidates in recent decades have been right out of the heart of the partyâ€™s establishment: Nixon, Ford, Bush-41 and Dole were all highly traditional choices. Reagan, Bush-43 and McCain marginally less so but all came with pedigree. By contrast, Palin would be an even more unusual choice than Goldwater was (and he lost massively).
Palinâ€™s VP run brings an element of seniority but her behaviour on the campaign wasnâ€™t always well received within the party and now her resignation does nothing to quell fears of unpredictability should she be trusted with the biggest responsibility.
The sound advice would have been (and was) to go back to Alaska, develop her reputation, win re-election in 2010, improve her skills, knowledge and understanding and reappear a much more formidable person. Sheâ€™s taken the opposite route and I expect will pay the price. Many political careers end in failure of one sort or another and Palin appears to be about to join that club.