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Debra Saunders / Jan. 13, 2011

No Off Button on Sarah Palin

This is a free country. If Sarah Palin wants to run for president in 2012, she is free to try. But she will not win the GOP nomination because Republican voters are not going to choose a middle-aged version of Britney Spears -- a figure whose most evident talent is to attract attention to herself -- to challenge Barack Obama.

It's this simple: Republicans are too smart to nominate a candidate with a 50 percent unfavorable rating, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, before she has declared for office.

This is a free country. If Sarah Palin wants to run for president in 2012, she is free to try. But she will not win the GOP nomination because Republican voters are not going to choose a middle-aged version of Britney Spears – a figure whose most evident talent is to attract attention to herself – to challenge Barack Obama.

It’s this simple: Republicans are too smart to nominate a candidate with a 50 percent unfavorable rating, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, before she has declared for office.

Cue to Palin’s latest video, in which she countered left-wing nuts who, with no proof whatsoever, tied her to the Tucson shootings.

“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn,” she said.

For close to three days, Palin had handled the brouhaha tastefully. On Saturday, she issued a short statement offering her condolences to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the other victims and their families; then she kept her mouth shut. By Tuesday, cooler heads prevailed. News coverage rightly focused away from the blame game and turned to reporting on Giffords’ recovery, the other victims and information on the man – I won’t name him; that’s what he wants – charged in the crimes. Without saying a word, Palin had won that round.

That is, until Wednesday, when Palin released her video, which turned the spotlight back on her and added a new element. Now cable TV news can noodle over whether Palin was deliberately provocative or clueless in using the words “blood libel” – a term coined to describe the spurious and ancient charge that Jews murdered non-Jewish children and then drank their blood in rituals. (And yes, I know a Wall Street Journal opinion piece used the same term Monday.)

The sorry episode confirmed the suspicion that Palin is addicted to getting attention, while her boosters are addicted to defending every thoughtless utterance she releases. And even her boosters know what most Republicans know: Palin is not a serious thinker.

It always makes me sad to think about what Palin might have been. What if, knowing she might be chosen, she had done a better job of preparing to be a presidential running mate? What if John McCain had not asked her to join the GOP ticket? What if she had entered the spotlight without having her personal life smeared on the Internet?

I think back on her as the Alaska governor, with a 90 percent approval rating and a maverick’s commitment to taking on the corrupt elements inside her own party. I think of the pragmatic Wasilla mayor who championed a sales tax to pay for law enforcement. If McCain had chosen someone else, in a couple of years, Palin might have become a seasoned politician, a smaller target and more surgical debater.

Instead – as pundits dissected Palin’s performance as a mother and feasted on her daughter’s teen pregnancy – an ugly trial-by-fire brought out the worst in Palin. With her tweets and Facebook pronouncements, she’s become a virtuoso at pressing liberal buttons. It’s too bad that, like the people who live to hate her, she doesn’t know how to stop.

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