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Posted at 2:02 PM ET, 01/26/2011

On Sarah Palin (and the Milbank moratorium)

By Chris Cillizza



Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Photo by REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Fix friend -- and Post columnist -- Dana Milbank has proposed a one-month moratorium on making mention of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her 2012 presidential prospects.

Is Milbank right when he writes that Palin is a" huge source of cheap Web clicks, television ratings and media buzz"? Yes. One hundred percent right. (And, yes, writing about why people write about Sarah Palin contributes to this narrative.)

And yet, we at the Fix can't follow the proposed Milbank moratorium -- and here's why.

Like it or not (and lots of people don't like it), Palin is the prime mover in the 2012 presidential field.

That doesn't mean -- as Ross Douthat points out -- that she is the most important conservative voice in the country (that's probably Charles Krauthammer).

She isn't. But, she is the person that every candidate mulling a 2012 bid of their own wonders about, gossips about and worries about.

Because, the simple truth is that Palin is the only true star of the Republican field. She is the only person -- and every strategist in every other presidential campaign will privately acknowledge this -- who could draw 10,000 people in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina at an event.

Now, would all of those people be Palin voters or even potential Palin voters? No. Many of them would be there out of curiosity -- morbid or otherwise -- and would have absolutely no intention of voting for Palin.

But, they would still be there and that means the national and local media would be there too -- and rightly so. Any potential or declared candidate able to draw considerable crowds in an early primary or caucus state deserves media attention.

It's a near-certainty that the media coverage of a Palin candidacy would go over the top -- most would argue it already has -- but even in that ability to draw over-coverage the former Alaska governor is proving her "prime mover" status.

A Palin candidacy would soak up all (or most) of the media oxygen, leaving very little room for the lesser known candidates to build momentum. (In that way, a Palin candidacy would be good news for the likes of former Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both of whom are well-known commodities to GOP primary voters and wouldn't need as much press attention to make their cases.)

And, Palin is not just a media phenomenon -- although she clearly is that.

In conversations with neutral Republican operatives, there is a widespread belief that she begins every primary or caucus with between 20 percent and 30 percent, a vote share that in a crowded field could well be enough to deliver her wins in places like the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary.

(Remember that in 2008 former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won Iowa with 34 percent of the vote and Arizona Sen. John McCain won South Carolina with 33 percent.)

Palin would almost certainly struggle to expand beyond that initial base of support but it's equally hard to imagine her committed supporters ever leaving her side either. That means that Palin could run the sort of unorthodox campaign she almost certainly would if she ran since television ads, direct mail and other typical forms of political persuasion would do little to broaden or shrink her appeal.

Given all of that, it's impossible for us to ignore Palin even for a month. Does that mean that we have to (or will) make a big deal out of every tweet or Facebook post from the 2008 vice presidential nominee? No.

But, she is a force -- of considerable power -- within the Republican party thanks to the devotion of her followers, followers who are generally those conservative voters who have an outsized hand in deciding the identity of the party's presidential nominee.

So, we continue on Palin watch unless and until she announces she won't be running.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 26, 2011; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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