Sarah Palin: the establishment’s savior?

Normally, when writing on political dynamics, one begins with a theory, presents a justification, and then details a potential result. But I’m impatient, so I thought it might be easier to crank up the Delorean and look at the end first. To that end, I’ve made up a crazy hypothetical brought back an important news report from the future to illustrate how Sarah Palin could ultimately become the establishment candidate in the race:

January 2nd, 2012

DES MOINES, IOWA (Reuters) — Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defied expectations last night by winning the Iowa caucus, gaining the support of 35% of caucus-goers. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney finished a distant second with 20%, barely edging out the 19% earned by businessman Herman Cain. Texas Gov. Rick Perry received a stinging rebuke with 9%.

Palin, a tea-party darling treated as a pariah by Washington Republicans, ironically surfed a late wave of support from establishment conservatives, who were alarmed by the collapse of Perry and the surge by the more radical Cain.

“This was the best [expletive] deal we could strike with the tea party,” said a GOP operative who asked not to be named. “We offered them [expletive] Perry, he flopped, they gave us [expletive] crazy Herman, and this was the only [expletive]  card we had left to play. I’m mad, but not as mad as I’d be if it had been the [expletive] pizza guy.”

That may have been a bit overwritten, but I don’t think it’s terribly off-base in terms of how a (still very possible) Palin campaign might end up. Many who dismiss Palin now are forgetting one crucial point: She would not enter the race as either the most anti-establishment candidate or the most conservative candidate. Those titles go to Bachmann and Cain. Meanwhile, every effort made by the establishment to put up a non-tea-party candidate has, up to this point, failed or underperformed.

Mitt Romney may be at the front of the pack, but he seems to have a support ceiling around 25% of the national vote, and is not well liked by the base. He’s written off Iowa and, while a win in New Hampshire is likely, he would have a very hard time beating anybody in a two-man race in South Carolina. He holds down a large chunk of the establishment, but many in the party elite know that he would have a hard time winning and have looked frantically for another savior. They tried Pawlenty, but he never got of the ground. The “Draft Daniels” effort failed to pull in its candidate. The “Draft Ryan” effort fizzled, and the “Draft Christie” push set a new standard in obnoxious refusal to accept reality. Some thought they’d hit pay dirt with Rick Perry, but at the end of the day he proved unacceptable to the base. Now, they’re out of options and, as evidenced by the Cain boom, the tea-party mutineers have seized control of the ship.

Most pundits are arguing that Perry is still alive and that Cain will soon go away, but from my point of view that’s just proof that they have entered the “denial” stage of the grieving process. Cain is raising buckets of money, staffing up, and pulling into the lead — a rise that looks more like Huckabee’s surge in 2008 than Bachmann’s boomlet. As we enter November, heads will begin exploding as the GOP power brokers realize that Herman Cain could win the nomination in a rout.