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Opinion: Why Republicans Should Thank Sarah Palin for Leaving the 2012 GOP Field

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This is a sad day in the Obama White House. Last night, Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced, once and for all, that she would not be running for president in 2012. On the Mark Levin radio show, Palin said she believed she would have more impact outside of the race, ending over a year of speculation about the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee’s plans.

Why a sad day for President Obama? Surely, the president and his supporters have been hoping for Palin at the top of the GOP ticket; Palin as an opponent would have all but assured his victory.

This is not to suggest that we do not take Palin seriously. Even now that she has chosen not to run, her influence on her party, politics, indeed American history, is undeniable. More than any other woman of our time, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, Palin has been able to galvanize a base, raise outsize sums of money and articulate a political vision. She is, in short, a leader.

I say this, despite having been a very vocal critic of Sarah Palin, over the years. My own detractors (mostly in the conservative blogosphere) have accused me of discounting her abilities, discrediting her credentials, even of being jealous. All nonsense.

My criticism of Palin is very specific. It is based on substance - or her lack of it. Sarah Palin is many things, but she is not destined for the White House.

In late fall 2010, when asked about the subject, Barack Obama was quoted as saying "I don't think about Sarah Palin," and I believed him. First of all, he had a country to run, a devastated economy to recover, and two wars to fight overseas. But more to the point, Obama knew then, what we all know now: In the Republican field, Palin would be the easiest of opponents to beat.

For her part, the turning point probably came when Palin realized that the people she would have to fear most, if she ever got serious about a run in 2012, were the people in her own party. Party stalwarts like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were not about to hand the GOP nomination over to a loose cannon like Palin -- especially not when they blame her for their loss in ’08, and especially since they actually think they have a real chance of winning back the White House in 2012.

Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to George W. Bush, was among those to send up the smoke signals, publicly casting doubt on Palin’s viability as a White House contender.

When asked by the British press whether the 47-year-old would be a wise choice to help the GOP seize the White House from Obama, Rove replied: “You can make a plausible case for any of them on paper, but it is not going to be paper in 2012. It’s going to be blood, it’s going to be sweat and tears and it’s going to be hard effort.”

He said Sarah Palin had done a “terrific job” in 2008 when Senator John McCain found her in obscurity and unleashed her on the country. But he added: “Being the vice-presidential nominee on the ticket is different from saying 'I want to be the person at the top of the ticket’.

“There are high standards that the American people have for it [the presidency] and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say 'that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world’.”

After losing with John McCain, Palin resigned as governor to write books and become a TV pundit (on the same “fair and balanced” news network where Mr. Rove is an analyst).

She is an influential supporter of Tea Party-backed Republican candidates in the mid-term elections. She delivered a speech in Iowa, where the first caucuses are held; she quietly accumulated a potential staff and she has raised a sizeable pot of money.

Yet, thanks to her staunchly conservative views, Palin has remained a highly divisive figure with high negative ratings, leaving many Republican strategists to surmise that her nomination at the top of the ticket would have all but guaranteed President Obama a second term. No major figure in the party came out in support of Palin. That includes Senator McCain, who specifically refused to endorse her.

It’s not just about the strategists. In the end, it’s about the base. And, when you get beyond the true believers and you look to the Republican primary voters, most of them are still watching and waiting in this race. For them, the decision will ultimately about which candidate is up to the challenge. They are going to pick the person they believe is most presidential, the man or woman who they feel is ready for the job.

So, what is the evidence that Palin is ready for the job? There really isn’t any. And that’s why she’s not running for it. Sarah Palin is fundamentally unqualified to be President of the United States.

This should not require repeating, but somehow it does. Something has happened to our collective memory of Palin, her candidacy, and her utter lack of qualification, between 2008 and now. We seem to have forgotten the pang of fear we felt when we thought about what would happen if President McCain were to die an early death.

We've been treating this woman as politically viable, when in fact she should not be. Why won't anyone call it as they see it? Why doesn't somebody just say what we know we are all thinking? I never thought I would say this, but is Karl Rove the only person with access to a microphone that will speak the truth about this woman?

Too many of us have lost sight of our reasons for rejecting Palin, in the first place. Vice President Palin was difficult to digest, and she was difficult to digest for a reason. Those reasons haven’t gone away.

After the election, I was willing to give her another chance. I believed she was open to doing the hard work required of her. I said so on national television (on The O’Reilly Factor, no less.) If Sarah Palin wanted to go back to Alaska to do what was necessary to become president in 2012 – delve into policy, become a serious thinker, study the Constitution, read the newspaper, prepare for the office - in four years time, she could be ready.

After all, Palin already had intangibles you cannot teach: Name recognition, camera appeal, charisma, star-power.

But did she do the things necessary to become a statesperson, presidential material? No. Instead, she quit her job as governor, before her term, was over - and launched a reality TV show. That may be the road to fame and fortune in America, but it is not the road to the White House.

As John Adams so wisely instructed at the founding of our country, great leaders are not those who simply “pull down” the institutions with which they disagree. "Then what?" he warned. Great leaders must have some plan for what they will build up, once elected.

What is Palin’s plan for America? If she were to run and win, then what? She doesn’t know the answer to that, and she knows she doesn’t know the answer. At least she’s smart enough to know that much.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.