Regard Bristol Palin's survival on "Dancing with The Stars" as an eerie metaphor for the possible political pathway of her mother, Sarah.
Bristol gets low marks from the judges (as her mother gets low marks in opinion polls), she has no talent for dance (her mother's intellectual depth is grossly shallow) and yet she has a following that votes to return her week after week to the TV show (as Mom's following pumps life into a possible run for the presidency).
Mainline Republicans privately would like to see Palin vanish from politics and stick with her rehearsed, scripted pose as a knowledgeable speaker, authoritative author, worthwhile TV commentator and TV travelogue host.
Republicans are terrified of offending Palin and her troops. Except for rare, mild critical comments, most remain mute. The sharpest stab at Palin came from Barbara Bush this week. "I think she's very happy in Alaska," the wife and mother of former presidents said with a sneer in her voice. "And I hope she'll stay there."
It's been barely two years since John McCain inflicted Palin—a curse or joke, depending on who's talking—on the nation. Despite her vapid Valley Girl persona and being the most popular caricature on Saturday Night Live, Palin is now the most influential woman in U.S. politics, having gone from small-town Alaska mayor to believing she can beat Barack Obama in a 2012 run.
If 2011 polls show her a bigger vote getter than the conventional GOP pack of wannabes, if Obama has still lost significant support and the economy is still in the dumps, Palin will be tempted to run. (What a kick, she'd think: buzzing Wasilla, Alaska, in Air Force One.)
How about this for fantasy: McCain would be her running mate. And if she beat Obama (assuming he runs, too), McCain could become president when Palin tires of the job and wants to return to populist celebrity without much need for heavy mental lifting.
Palin's positioning is perfectly timed. She matches current public antipathy to brainy, visionary political leaders. Palin's legions thrive on street mob slogans, conspiracy theories, hate, shrieking TV panelists, racism, revolution and pride in attacking the educated.
However, the logical likelihood—emphasis on "logical"—is that Palin will encounter more and more rejection as a presidential candidate and more demands to explain her competence at heavy thinking in the world's most powerful office. That'll keep her on the path already traveled—tea party powerbroker, mistress of mumbo-jumbo and an egocentric celebrity for sale to the highest bidders in TV and publishing.