While Santorum says he “disagree[s] with Palin’s judgment” on some issues — like her endorsement of Rand Paul in Kentucky — he says he “by and large love[s] what she has to say. She’s a great rallying point for the party.” But he cautions that she still needs to be focused on “prudential judgment.” ~Robert Costa

It’s a bit rich for Rick “Gathering Storm” Santorum to advise anyone else on prudential judgment, but let’s leave that alone for now. Palin’s endorsements can be helpful, but they aren’t always critical to a candidate’s success. Often enough, she jumps behind candidates that are already poised to win. Martinez would have won the gubernatorial primary here in New Mexico regardless of any outside endorsements. It wouldn’t have mattered if Palin had endorsed one of her opponents. The candidates Palin endorses don’t always win, as Vaughn Ward conspicuously failed to do in Idaho, but for the moment she has aligned herself with enough high-profile successes across the country that the losing candidates she has backed don’t get much attention. What she has demonstrated is that she understands what a substantial part of the Republican primary electorate wants, and she has positioned herself accordingly. When it comes to making endorsements in intra-Republican contests, her political judgment is reasonably good, but that basically makes her nothing more than a celebrity endorser who generates enthusiasm for a particular product/candidate among a fairly small, targeted audience.

Santorum’s observation that she is a rallying point is correct, but that doesn’t mean that she is a viable presidential candidate. Andrew thinks that people in Washington are “in denial” when they conclude that she has no chance as a 2012 candidate. This doesn’t strike me as a form of denial, but a pretty fair assessment of the GOP’s habit of suppressing every other enthusiasm or grievance in the hopes of winning the Presidency. Ten or eleven years ago, we heard about the “broken glass” Republicans who would have supposedly crawled across broken glass to see Gore defeated, and there will be even more anti-Obama Republicans like this in 2012. It doesn’t seem possible right now, but when it comes time to select a nominee there will be boundless tolerance for an “impure” candidate who can give the party a chance at unseating Obama. Perhaps the only thing greater than the GOP’s enthusiasm for executive power is its desire to control the executive, which has usually been its only reliable access to power at the federal level for most of the last sixty years.

According to the pattern of the last thirty years, we all know that the Republican runner-up in one cycle is treated as the heir in the next open cycle. It doesn’t seem to matter how flawed or deeply disliked the runner-up is among conservative activists and journalists, and it doesn’t seem to matter how poor of a candidate he is. McCain became the nominee in spite of all the conservatives who loathed him, and Dole won the nomination in ’96 largely on the grounds that it was his turn. Democratic runners-up may try to come back, but they usually don’t succeed and just as often they don’t make the attempt. This is just one more reason why the conservative cult dedicated to Hillary Clinton is utterly misguided. If the pattern holds, and there is no reason to think that it won’t, the nomination will probably end up going to Romney or Huckabee, unless both of them appear so unelectable that a safe, viable third alternative becomes necessary. Then Mitch Daniels or someone else deemed suitable will emerge as the new frontrunner. Assuming that there will be a large, weak, divided field again, it is likely that the next Republican nominee will also win with barely a third of the early primary vote, so the bar is low enough for Romney or Huckabee to get over. It is probably still too high for Palin to cross.

On top of all this, losing VP candidates rarely come back to win their party’s nomination, and they simply never come back in the Republican Party. Most Republicans like Sarah Palin, but there are not nearly enough Republicans who like her so much that they will be willing to concede the 2012 election by nominating her. There is undoubtedly a dedicated core of supporters that doesn’t think she would lose the election, but even most sympathetic Republicans don’t believe that. Palin is unlikely to be an electoral threat to other potential Republican 2012 candidates, and she would be no threat at all to Obama if she were somehow to win the nomination. Anyone who wants Obama to skate to re-election with minimal resistance would welcome a Palin nomination, and anyone who wants a reasonably competitive contest in two years should hope that the GOP puts forward a far less ridiculous candidate.