The End of Palin

Well, she didn't quit to run for president.

Nobody would do that, could possibly do that, could at any point be told by any person that an idea that crazy might actually work out. It's not just that it's irrational; it's that it's insane. There is no political playbook (there will never be a political playbook) that calls this play.

Whatever the reason, it isn't that.

Keep in mind that if you could pick any day in the year to dump a story like this, to try to damp down negative coverage, you'd have to go with the Friday before July 4th. If you wanted to keep the story low-key you'd hold a small press conference, hastily announced, before all of the press could arrive to ask questions. If you thought the story was a bad one, you'd do exactly what Sarah Palin just finished doing.

What kind of scandal could cause a resignation before the story has even broken? Pay-for-play, Ted Stevens style? A briefcase full of cash? Will there be handcuffs? Is there an ethics investigation bombshell about to be dropped? Did she kill Michael Jackson?

It's just so exciting to think about.

But while Democrats have taken joy of late, impressed by how utterly fulfilling the twists and turns of Republican scandal can be, the total collapse of political characters like Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford may actually be the best thing that could happen to the GOP.

There is no doubt that the Sarah Palin of only a week ago would have been a leading contender to win the Iowa caucus in 2012. Her celebrity would have been a useful tool for building the kind of ground game necessary to compete there and her appeal among the religious right is high (60 percent of Iowa Republican primary voters are evangelicals). But had that win been her springboard to the nomination, it could have literally destroyed the GOP.

Against a powerful Obama organization and with a massive intellectual disadvantage, Palin's lack of discipline and intelligence, her unyielding preference for trite rhetoric over even the illusion of substance, her total lack of self-awareness and her obvious lack of readiness would have caused unknowable damage to her party.

Every week, she finds a new way to embarrass herself. Lucky for Republicans, her latest train wreck means a future disaster avoided.

Mark Sanford too could have torn his party apart. Surely under the scrutiny of running for national office, Sanford's exotic personal life would have been uncovered. Having this saga unfold now is far better for the GOP than having it unfold two weeks after Sanford's nomination.

Whoever is unlucky enough to take on Obama in the 2012 race is going to face the most formidable incumbent in the history of American politics. The size and scope of his campaign organization will be so massive, so all-encompassing, that defeating it will be nearly impossible.

If there's anyone who can, they aren't on the stage right now. Not a single name mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate has anything near what it would take. The party needs to look elsewhere for its savior.

Though they may not realize it, the best hope of Republicans is for more scandals among their starting lineup. For a backbencher to emerge onto that stage, it helps to have Palin and Sanford falling off of it headfirst.