Sarah Palin may soon be free. Soon, she may not have the millstone of John McCain around her neck. And she can begin her race for president in 2012.
Some are already talking about it. In careful terms. If John McCain loses next week, Sarah Palin "has absolutely earned a right to run in 2012," says Greg Mueller, who was a senior aide in the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes. Mueller says Palin has given conservatives "hope" and "something to believe in."
And even if the McCain-Palin ticket does win on Nov. 4 and Mueller says it could "if McCain decides to serve for just one term, Sarah Palin as the economic populist and traditional American values candidates will be very appealing by the time we get to 2012."
It is clear that while trying to bond with voters, John McCain and Sarah Palin have not managed to bond with each other. Perhaps we should not be surprised. They barely know one another.
When McCain appeared on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on Oct. 16, McCain praised Palin but went out of his way to point out how little he knew about her before he chose her as his running mate. "I didn't know her real well," McCain said. "I knew her reputation. I didn't know her well at all. I didn't know her well at all."
The discomfort between the two can be palpable. Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director, was in the room when Brian Williams interviewed Palin and McCain recently. "There was a tenseness," Todd said later. "When you see the two of them together, the chemistry is just not there. You do wonder, is John McCain starting to blame her for things? Blaming himself? Is she blaming him?"
I am guessing one and three. John McCain is blaming Palin for demonstrating her inexperience and lack of knowledge. And Palin is blaming McCain for running what she views as a bad campaign a campaign that did not go after Barack Obama over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and did not exploit Obama's statement about how small-town people "cling" to guns and religion and for never picking a clear message that had any traction with voters.
But here's the difference: If McCain loses, he doesn't get to run again, and Palin does.
All that negative stuff about her? Charging Alaska taxpayers a per diem allowance for 300 nights she spent at home, flying her kids at state expense to events they were not invited to, accepting wildly expensive clothes from the Republican National Committee and, according to one ethics panel, having abused her office as governor?
Not only will all that have faded by the 2012 campaign, Palin already has her defense ready: Some of these accusations are part of a double standard that is applied to women and not to men.
She says Hillary Clinton ran into the same problem.
"I think Hillary Clinton was held to a different standard in her primary race," Palin told Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune recently. "Do you remember the conversations that took place about her say, superficial things that they don't talk about with men, like her wardrobe and her hairstyles, all of that, that's a bit of that double standard. Certainly there's a double standard."
Palin went on: "But I'm not going to complain about it, I'm not going to whine about it, I'm going to plow through that because we are embarking on something greater than that, than allowing that double standard to adversely affect us."
If she runs in 2012, Palin will run to shatter the glass ceiling. By then, Americans may have shown they are willing to vote for an African-American for president, but how about a woman?
Mueller thinks Palin would make a strong candidate. There certainly will be others jockeying for the job. And Mueller named Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
But Mueller thinks that, while some conservative intellectuals have deserted and derided Sarah Palin, the Republican base likes her and could stick with her.
"She would run in 2012 as the populist, conservative reformer that she was originally introduced to the country as," Mueller said. "If Obama wins, you will see him moving the country to a sort of Euro-socialism. That will fail, and she can target an economic-populist message to the country."
Mueller also argues that Palin could run a more convincing campaign on traditional conservative issues in 2012 than McCain has in 2008
"One weakness in McCain's campaign is not campaigning on strong, pro-life, traditional values issues," Mueller said. "There has been a certain level of discomfort over the years by McCain over guns, G-d and life issues."
Mueller says McCain and Palin could still win next week. But if that happens, Mueller thinks Palin should get a lot of the credit. "A lot of conservatives are not excited by John McCain, even though I think he has been saying some good things," Mueller said. "If they vote, they will vote for Sarah."
And if not in 2008, maybe in 2012.