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Sarah Palin: Thin-skinned, smartly strategic (or both)?

What is Sarah Palin up to? Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Via her Facebook page, Twitter account and regular appearances on Fox News Channel, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is everywhere these days -- and regularly takes the sort of potshots at other politicians and the media that most of her colleagues shy away from.

To wit:

* In an appearance last night on Greta Van Susteren's show, Palin took direct aim at two Politico reporters -- by name no less! -- for a piece they wrote detailing the behind-the-scenes effort of the GOP political establishment to kill her presidential ambitions before they grow. She called the reporters "jokes" for using anonymous sourcing, saying of those who hide behind the cloak of anonymity: "If they would man up and if they would, you know, make these claims against me then I can debate them, I can talk about it, but to me they're making stuff up again."

* In a Facebook post over the weekend entitled "Lisa, are you going to shut down my Facebook page for writing this", Palin castigated Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) for allegedly threatening a radio show host who urged his listeners to sign up as write-in candidates for tomorrow's election. (Murkowski is running a write-in candidacy following her defeat in an Aug. 24 primary by Palin-backed attorney Joe Miller.) "Lisa, you can sue me if you want (you won't be the first)," wrote Palin. "But I will not be intimidated from speaking my mind. Your intimidation just empowered us liberty-loving Alaskans. Are you really that out of touch?

Palin's willingness to air her personal grudges and grievances is without peer -- or question. But, whether her comments are merely a response to the negative coverage she has received or a broader strategy to position herself as diametrically opposed to the Republican establishment and the media for some future run for office (and whether it might work) is a point of considerable debate within the party.

Allies of the former governor insist that her reactions to media stories and other politicians who have crossed her is a natural one given the barbs that have been thrown her way since she emerged from near-total obscurity to become the 2008 vice presidential nominee.

"Have you seen the attacks on this woman and her family in the last two years?" replied John Coale, a personal friend of Palin, when asked whether there was motive behind her recent comments.

The large debate within the GOP, however, is not whether Palin's statements are justified but whether they are evidence of a grander political strategy to position her to run as the anti-establishment/tea party candidate come 2012.

(It's a testament to Palin's power that no one -- literally NO ONE -- the Fix chatted with about her future prospects would do so on the record. And, yes, we know that by citing anonymous sources, we are playing into the very "lamestream media" tactics that Palin decries.)

One senior GOP source familiar with Palin although not personally close to the former governor, insisted that her pronouncements are entirely calculated to benefit her politically.

"If she were truly thin skinned, she would have put her tail in between her legs and disappeared two years ago," said the source. "The Palin base see Obama as enemy number one and the mainstream media as a close second (if not a tie). This works to her advantage and she knows it."

If you subscribe to that theory, however, it raises another set of questions -- namely: Can Palin run for president on a platform steeped in cynicism about large portions of the political process? And, even if she does, will carping about the media and her fellow Republicans ultimately be persuasive to GOP primary voters who are already showing signs that while they admire Palin they may not be willing to vote for her for president.

Of course, there are others who insist that discussion is moot.

"To present this a strategy is to give her way too much credit," said one senior GOP strategist. "She didn't have a strategy, she doesn't have a strategy, and she won't have a strategy."

As always when it comes to analyzing Palin's approach to politics, it's nearly impossible to know where the truth lies.

Trying to assess her statements, Facebook missives and tweets using the traditional standards we would apply to people like former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) or Gov. Haley Barbour (Miss.) simply won't work. Palin -- for good or ill -- operates on her own political axis and one that makes political prognostication next to impossible.

If she does run for president, it's a virtual certainty that her demonstrated willingness to take on political shibboleths will be front and center in that campaign. But, to assume that her recent statements are laying some sort of groundwork for such a bid or that such a platform would prove persuasive to voters remains simple guesswork.

Palin continues to keep the political world guessing about her motives and her meaning as a political figure. Like her or hate her, it's hard not to be intrigued about what she will do next.

By Chris Cillizza  | November 1, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: Cornyn says GOP won't retake Senate; projections for House continue to tilt toward Republicans; O'Donnell can't air 30-minute ad

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