Liberal blogger Nate Silver believes it’s good news for the former Alaska governor that not a single one of 109 GOP “party leaders, political professionals and pundits” surveyed by National Journal thinks she’ll be the party’s 2012 nominee. He thinks this will reinforce what he calls the “victimization complex of Palin and her supporters” and predicts “there’s going to come a time, probably in July 2011 or so, where the knives are really drawn on Palin and Republican pundits, strategists and candidates start saying in public some of the things they’ve been thinking in private.”

Talk of victimization complexes aside, Silver’s assumption is that outsiderdom is popular among the conservative GOP primary electorate. Unfortunately for Palin, he’s wrong about that. When was the last time the Republican Party nominated anyone who wasn’t the consensus candidate of those “party leaders, political professionals and pundits”? Recall who the GOP has fielded in the past 20 years — George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain. These were all insider candidates who got rewarded for “waiting their turn.” Even Reagan, a better candidate than Ford in ’76, was passed over that year only to be accepted in ’80, by which time the party establishment was reconciled to him, reluctantly or not. The establishment pick for 2012 is, as the National Journal survey confirms once again, Mitt Romney, who bowed out of the 2008 primaries at just the right time to stop the nomination process from getting too tumultuous. (It’s quite possible that the GOP could have had a hung convention if Romney had stayed in.)

The thing that surprises populist or insurgent GOP candidates time and again is just how middle-of-the-road Republican presidential primary voters really are. But think about it: the people who are most likely to vote in any primary are a.) older people, b.) party loyalists, and above all c.) people who have voted in primaries before. In other words, the people who will be voting in 2012 GOP presidential primaries will be mostly the same people who nominated McCain in 2008, Bush in 2000, and Dole in 1996. They are, simply put, politically conformist. Neither conservatives nor populists nor outsiders of any description (not even the Christian Right, as witness Pat Robertson in ’88) has had any grip on the GOP nominating process since 1976, when Reagan fell short of the nomination but really did discombobulate the establishment. And ’76 was the first seriously contested Republican race under the modern primary system. Since then, the GOP establishment has learned how to quash any resistance. The primaries only give the appearance of competition — in practice, they work just as well as the old smoke-filled room when it comes to nominating the pick of the “party leaders, professionals and pundits.”

There is a way to beat the establishment at its own game, but it requires a smarter and more ruthless strategy than I expect to see from Sarah Palin, who, if anything, might have her best shot by becoming runner-up in 2012 and then being the insider pick for 2016. Exactly what it would take to win against the grain of insider opinion is a topic I’ll pick up another day. (For more on Palin, see Jeff Taylor’s review of her book from the latest TAC.)