Sarah Palin: Stayin Alive

Todd S. Purdum paints a gruesome picture of Sarah Palin, politically speaking, in his Vanity Fair piece that came out today. It's rife with examples of two-faced moments and old former allies who are now estranged from Palin because, as they intimate, she keeps friends close until they're no longer useful, or she takes disagreements personally, and fallings out ensue.

It's lurid, to say the least.

Purdum's article reads like a post-mortem, but it's not: Palin's political fortunes are still very much alive. A recent round of polling showed Palin neck and neck with Mike Huckabee as the most popular politician among Republicans nationwide.

As noted by John Bitney, a lobbyist and former aide who helped get Palin elected as governor in 2006--another of the former associates with mixed, emotional feelings about Palin--she started her gubernatorial run with a small band of ardent conservatives at her back, and expanded her support base from there.

Bitney tells Purdum it looks like she might try to do the same nationally in 2012:

"What it looks like to me she's trying to do is try the same formula that got her the governorship," John Bitney says. "You sort of start off with a conservative base. The right-wing base is obviously out on the far end of the spectrum, but it's a very motivated base. They show up, they're committed. It gets you that political beachhead. She did not get started with the blessing of the Republican Party. She started with a dedicated corps of sort of right-wing true believers who killed themselves for her, and got her going. And then she began to build on that, and after she crossed the primary hurdle, she moderated her message on some points."

If that's Palin's goal, she certainly has the conservative base to start with: according the Pew survey referenced above, 73 percent of Republicans view her favorably--a full 18 percent advantage on Mitt Romney, for instance. In that regard, she's the most dynamic figure in the GOP. The enthusiastic (cynics would say rabid) nature of her support base--just remember the scene that unfolded at her rallies as the '08 campaign progressed, with people showing up to hear her, not McCain, drawn by her dynamism (with supporters generating an energy that sometimes spilled over into a xenophobic anti-Obama craze)--would certainly help her raise money.

But the big question is step two: can she grow that base into a winning coalition? As Purdum points out, the Wall Street and national security wings of the GOP wouldn't get behind her, and her near-even split of 45/44 favorable/unfavorable among all Pew respondents proves her divisiveness.

Palin made a political foray this month to upstate New York to celebrate Alaskan statehood at the historical home of William Seward, who negotiated Alaska's purchase in 1867--a jaunt similar to the fare of other 2012 hopefuls who have trotted across the country (most notably to Iowa and New Hampshire, but to other states as well) looking to grow some support. Last week, she departed for a trip abroad to visit Alaska National Guard troops.

Whatever you think about 2008's effect on Palin's political career, the aftermath is now hers. The nation is split 45/44 on whether they like her, and it's safe to say most people have an opinion; those are two very large pieces for her to pick up and make of them what she will.