As GOP candidates make us yawn, Palin sits and waits

Paul Jenkins

Here's a surprise: A New York Times/CBS poll shows Republican voters wish they had more GOP candidates to choose from in the 2012 presidential race -- and about two-thirds of them said they are enthusiastically unenthusiastic about any of the nine announced candidates.

The ennui is palpable and who could blame them? Cold mashed potatoes have more pizzazz then this bunch. History-impaired. Goofy. The same, followed by more of the same. Blah-blah-blah. The only way to liven it up would require at least a truckload of fairy dust -- or new blood jumping into the fray.

All of this plays out while Barack Obama stinks up the joint. The poll says only 47 percent of the respondents approve of Obama's job performance; 44 percent disapprove. The rest have been living under a bridge for the last few years. Respondents do not like Obama's handling of the economy, and 63 percent say the country is on the wrong track.

You would think those numbers would have Obama perched high on a ledge somewhere in Chicago -- but he likely is thinking: Why panic? The Republicans, after all, might do what Republicans do -- knock each other off. Everything could change. Quickly.

Meanwhile, in the hinterlands -- and Pella, Iowa, defines the hinterlands -- Sarah Palin the Unannounced is hard at work premiering "The Undefeated," an unsettling, 1930s-style, propaganda rehab documentary about her. She takes a few moments to fuel speculation that she might finally leap into the presidential contest, such as it is.

So far, she's been smart. Why get in early and get savaged? She already has taken body shots -- remember Paul Revere? -- without even putting a pedicured toe into the ring. Instead, she is rounding up money, friends and tons of free media exposure roaming the country, hogging headlines in states where other, and already-announced, GOP candidates are campaigning.

Oh, there are setbacks, such as a Hays Research Group poll showing she would lose to Obama in Alaska, but it is a long, tough haul to 2012 -- and people forget.

There are as many theories about whether she will run as there are reasons never to vote for her -- but how can she sit it out? She is drawn to the klieg lights, attention and raw politics. If she does not run, she becomes Sarah Who? -- a ho-hum product with fewer zeroes on her checks. Marginalized. A footnote. You had your chance, critics would carp, sit down and shut up.

The question, to some, is not whether Palin will run. It is whether she will make a serious effort -- or fade in the stretch.

If she opts to get in, one theory has her running to win, that she cannot see her chances of winning -- even if Obama turns out to be a baby-eater from the planet Zixort -- are about the same as the proverbial snowball. She cannot, this theory goes, help herself any more than she can shoot a rifle. The presidency is the only game that counts and she is driven. Win, lose or draw, even if it endangers the franchise or the GOP, at least there is something of a future for her. There will be something to say -- and sell.

A second theory is that she will run and not care about winning. She will be there to do maximum damage to Obama and the Democrats to help her chances in the future. If she were to lose, and she would, there would be the nasty news media to blame, books to write, skyrocketing speaker's fees and the adulation of the crazies. What sells the theory is the Sarah-comes-first aspect. It is so her.

A third theory -- the most plausible -- is that Palin will campaign for as many tea party votes as she can get and, when it is obvious she cannot win, throw her support behind a candidate who might, and settle for the role of kingmaker. It is beautiful. She does not lose outright; she loses on her own terms, extending her reach and power. Whoever she supports will owe her later. And, most important to Palin, she remains a viable brand.

While all of this plays out, the rest of us wait, wondering, calculating, guessing. Hey, wouldn't July 4 be a great day for her to announce? Or, wait, how about Constitution Day? Or Marmot Day?

It occurs to me she would have it no other way.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.