The day Sarah Palin announced her resignation as Alaska governor, I wrote a post speculating on whether there was anyone who could stop her from getting the Republican nomination. (Answer: Huckabee). I was surprised to see that most of the subsequent commentary was not on whether she was a lock for the nomination or merely the frontrunner but rather whether her political career was destroyed or merely grievously wounded.
Why am I so much more bullish on Palin than most pundits?
The sources of her appeal remain undiminished. Her popularity never came from her track record as governor, so failure to finish the term won't matter that much to her supporters. She's beloved largely because of who she is and what she's accomplished as a person not what she's accomplished as a governor. The most important fact for the religious conservatives who love her remains that she gave birth to a baby with downs syndrome rather than opting for an abortion. Everything else pales in comparison. She's viewed as a pro-life politician who practices what she preaches. Each conservative politician who ends up caught in the men's room with a male prostitute or in Argentina with a soul mate, only makes Palin's authenticity more powerful.
And Palin is aware of the political importance, saying that the birth of Trig allowed her to "walk the walk" in her pro-life views. "I feel so privileged and blessed to be, I guess, chosen to have Trig in our life," she told James Dobson, "because I do want to help us in in our cause here."
She wears Christian protective armor. She uses every attack on her as proof that someone is out to get her and in fact many Christians believe that anti-Palin bias is anti-Christian bias. Like some superhero with special powers, the more she's attacked the stronger she becomes.
Religoius conservatives will be as important if not more so in the 2012 Republican primaries. Evangelicals accounted for a bigger percentage of John McCain's general election vote than of George Bush's meaning that these voters have become a more central part of the party coalition. Two of the three early states (Iowa and South Carolina) have large evangelical populations, the third (New Hampshire) liking "mavericky" types.
IOU Collection Machine. The most important advantage for Palin is the most simple: she can travel. She'll be sought after to raise money and campaign for Republican candidates around the country. The more she does, the more IOUs she collects. Within two years, she'll go from a popular outsider, to a woman with a lot of friends.
Her behavior since the election has not positioned her well with independents or for a general election. But politicians like her usually focus on the nomination first, and viewed through that prism, her decision to resign is neutral to positive for her.
More from Beliefnet's Steven Waldman here