Steinglass believes that they may flame out. On the other hand:

It's possible that the tea-party movement will have a more lasting impact than parties like Mr Perot's, which fizzled by the late 1990s, or Mr Fortuyn's, which flamed out of existence within a year or two of seizing some of the largest vote totals in the country. For one thing, the tea-party movement has made the smart move of organising as a faction within the Republican Party, evading the eternal doom that befalls third parties in the American system. For another, it is not too closely tied to a single charismatic personality, though a split between Sarah Palin and any large segment of the movement might do some damage. And third, it runs no risk of actually wielding power for several years.

I don't see why a recession-era anti-incumbent fervor couldn't sweep a lot of "tea-party" candidates into the Congress, where they will dominate, with the help of Fox, the entire Republican agenda, and make any sane compromise with Obama on critical fiscal issues, for example, impossible. In my book, that's called wielding power.

The question becomes whether this stalemate would lead voters to rally again to the Dems in 2012 to break the deadlock. It's perfectly possible Obama wins in this scenario, as the only moderate adult in the room. But the forces we are seeing - an endless, crippling recession as many working class whites slip further into poverty, a xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Obama culture war, and the promise of a civilizational war against Islam - could easily sweep a Palin close to power. Then add in a humiliating retreat from Afghanistan and a terror attack ... and you know how shameless these D'Souzaites can be. Remember 2004 when all the exit polls suggested a Kerry win for a few hours? What no one foresaw was a huge turnout of exactly the hurting, white, rural Palinites who did not show up last time around. They're still there and my sense is that we will be surprised at the magnitude of their victory this fall.

I think, in other words, normal political predictions are at sea in this economy. Anything can happen. What appears to be the mood is virulent anti-incumbency (can Rick Perry seriously be in any danger?) without regard to actual policies. So who is the most un-Obama of the Republicans?

Yep, she is. And they love her, even if the wider public finds her repellent.

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