Paul Mirengoff argues that it is “quite plausible” to consider Palin the front-runner for the GOP nomination should she run. He lays out his list of assumptions; the one I most doubt is the second, and the third and fourth depend on its being true. “The second assumption is that the Tea Party movement will back Palin and that she will capture most of the Tea Party vote.” The “movement” may be too decentralized for it to back one candidate. Maybe she will get a plurality of tea partiers, but I can see several other figures having some appeal to them. Mike Huckabee, for example, who has pretty good anti-establishment cred and has been campaigning for years now on getting rid of the income tax. (If the tea partiers want their views to permeate the Republican party over the long run, splitting their support to multiple candidates — all of whom will find it in their interests to court tea partiers — is probably the best strategy.) And who’s to say that Jim DeMint stays out of the race?
It would be a real mistake, I think, to see O’Donnell’s victory as somehow presaging one by Palin. As Mirengoff concedes, Palin, if she runs for president, won’t be running against Mike Castle. Primary voters may also behave differently when the stakes are higher. Taking a gamble on a Senate candidate who might not be able to win is different from taking a gamble on a presidential candidate. That doesn’t mean Palin can’t win. But the conventional wisdom — that the race is wide open — just may be correct.