I have been hesitant to comment or speculate on 2012 because it's foolish and in many ways useless. Furthermore, we just finished up a long and tumultuous election, and so we may need a break from speculating on elections. It's a point of debate, of great debate to some, whether or not she is fit to be President. What is, in my opinion, beyond debate is that her path to the White House is as clear as anyone short of the President elect. Here is the blue print.
For the next two years plus, Palin has a job and if she has any further ambitions, all she should focus on now is being Governor of Alaska. As most know, she entered the Presidential race with about 80% approval ratings. That's likely to dip some if not a lot for a myriad of reasons. Her national combative profile likely turned off a lot of people in Alaska which likely didn't have such an image of her. An approval rating that high is always going to fall. Just ask President Bush, he had an even higher ratings in the early part of 2002. Finally, with oil prices dipping, the economic outlook of Alaska becomes a lot more unclear.
Here is the reality. Palin has done a remarkable job as Governor. She re negotiated a corrupt contract with the oil companies. She passed landmark legislation on ethics reform. She cut taxes and she even sent each and every citizen a check. While her job performance has been excellent, it has also been in a very favorable environment.
Now, the economy will become a much bigger burden. Her opponents will feel emboldened after her higher profile, and the glare of the media spotlight will be on her. Now is when she, as they say, will really earn her paycheck. The next two years will likely be nowhere near as successful as the prior two, and frankly they don't have to be. If Palin maintains approval ratings above 55% when she leaves office, she will be in perfect position to run for President in 2012. She should wait as long as possible, but I wouldn't seek another term beyond the current one. Running for President takes almost two years. It will take up most of her time. She shouldn't run for re election unless she is committed to serve. She wants to wait as long as possible so that the legislature doesn't have an opportunity to consider her a lame duck.
One thing that is not up for debate is that Palin is now a star. That's why the next two years should be spent governing effectively. She will get plenty of publicity in a manner that a governor and certainly one from Alaska has never received. However she governs, her record will be on display for a national audience, and that's why it's vital that she govern effectively.
2011 February on
I would wait weeks not months following the inauguration of the next Congress to announce an exploratory committee. Announcing early, early than most, gives her a few vital advantages. First, she can immediately set up geographically within the continental United States. Her ability to navigate a Presidential campaign from Alaska is limited. She needs to immerse herself inside the continental U.S. and the sooner the better. Second, it immediately allows her to fundraise. You think that Obama's fundraising prowess is impressive, wait until Palin runs her own national campaign.
By fundraising early, Palin can knock out a lot of opponents because they will see just how much she has raised and realize they simply can't compete.
Then, she immediately does the formal rounds. CPAC is normally held in late February or early March. It is the single biggest and most important gathering of Conservatives in any given year. Talk about a target rich environment. There is no more audience more favorable to Palin than this one. It's also the perfect opportunity to formally throw her hat in the Presidential ring. If she did that, the announcement would be the talk of the conference. It would take the oxygen from any other potential opponent as well. As such, while we would still be a year out, just by maneuvering correctly she would immediately have an early commanding lead.
Palin will then need to make the rounds to other hallmark events like the Iowa County Fair. Palin will have an opportunity to develop a very unique campaign theme. First, she will be the first truly consistent conservative to be a serious Presidential candidate since the standard bearer, Ronald Reagan. Republicans have been itching for the next generation of a consistent conservative and now they will have their chance. She can combine this with a uniquel populist theme. She needs to develop the populist theme by highlighting those portions of her record. Her record as a whistle blower, taking on her own party, and taking on the oil companies. Those are the sorts of things that are likely to be very appealing to moderates and independents if framed correctly. Finally, when this is combined with the historic nature of her campaign, she has a chance to develop a very formidabel coalition.
2012 will either be very ripe for Palin or it will be an uphill battle for any Republican. If we are still facing an economic malaise, unemployment north of 6.5% for instance, it will give her a perfect opportunity to make the campaign a referendum on Obama's first term. Furthermore, it's clear that Obama and the Democrats are ready to spend in an unprecedented manner and so deficits will likely be at unprecedented levels by 2012. This will give her another opportunity to make the comparison between Obama's government expansionist policies and her own record in making government efficient.
If Palin is shrewd, she will make the case that the country lost its way as soon as the government got away from conservative principles. The last time we had a truly economic conservative President was Reagan. His record of deregulation, tax cuts, and deregulation unleashed the power of our economy that only stopped a couple months ago. The country will be reintroduced to the corrosive effect of regulations following Obama's "new regulatory framework" (whatever that maybe), and so the environment will be ripe for a renewed deregulatory spirit. Politics is very cyclical. Tax cuts, free markets and small government are concepts largely out of favor. We will have four years of the exact opposite. There's nothing like exposure to the opposite to make people appreciate such concepts again. These will all be themes ripe to run on in 2012, and they are all concepts that Palin not only believes in but has a record of accomplishing.
She will have to get past people's fears that she is a novice on foreign policy. The best way to do this is to get out in front of tough interviews and answer difficult foreign policy questions. Hopefully, she learns from the mistakes of the McCain campaign and she allows herself to be the most media accessible and non discriminatory candidate we have had. The more foreign policy questions she answers with confidence, clarity and detail, the more she will get over this hurdle. She will have the next two years to observe, process, and develop her own foreign policy philosophy. If she uses it wisely, she will be ready for these questions come 2012. Finally, she must emphasize competence. She must emphasis a history of accomplishment. It was the total lack of competence that defined the Republicans from 2002-2008, and to make a clean break, Palin must run on a record of competence. (which is another reason why all of this is predicated on having two more successful years as governor. It's hard to run on competence with a record of incompetence)
All right, it's four years out, but this is about as detailed a path to the Presidency as you will find.
Please check out my new books, "Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall" and also, "The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers"