With a long campaign finally nearing its (apparently foregone) conclusion, people are tiring of speculation about the presidential race. I think what they want now is... speculation about the next presidential race. Never too early for this sort of thing. I'm predicting that Sarah Palin will be the next Republican nominee.
Palin is wildly popular with the Republican base, in the same stratosphere as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Normally, I trust the GOP elite's ability to steer the base toward a more electable nominee. But the party elites seem almost as smitten by Palin as the base. Social conservatives, many neoconservatives, and economic conservatives have fallen for Palin. Grover Norquist, who knows the GOP base, said, "Palin draws large crowds and has energized Reagan Republicans, gun owners, women and people of faith. ... She is an asset and the most consequential VP candidate in a generation."
Now, it's true that some conservative commentators have attacked her. But these are a small minority, and almost all of them work for publications aimed at mainstream readers, not the conservative subculture. Palin can afford to lose David Brooks if she has the loyalty of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
It's also true that some members of John McCain's campaign consider her selection a huge mistake, and after the election, they're likely to dish details of Palin's astonishing ignorance of national politics and foreign policy. But these charges will probably be aired in mainstream news outlets that Republicans distrust. (The Weekly Standard and National Review are gaga for Palin.) Most Republicans have already dismissed the assaults on her fitness for office as elitist liberal condescension. Any Republican contender making this case against Palin will be seen as a turncoat. Remember how ginger Republicans were in criticizing President Bush, even obliquely, in the last primary? That's the status Palin will enjoy.
And no GOP challenger will enjoy anything like her popularity or name recognition. Everything she needs to run a primary campaign is available: elite operatives eager to advise her, conservative media eager to tout her, hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers eager to donate to her and knock on doors on her behalf.
Already, by suggesting that she disagrees with McCain's decision not to emphasize Rev. Wright, Palin is siding with the emerging conservative analysis of what went wrong with the campaign: McCain was too soft, too worried about the approval of the press corps, and too ideologically compromised to make the case against Obama.
It's actually enough to make me look forward to seeing the 2012 primary unfold.
RELATED: Noam Scheiber is more skeptical of Palin's chances. Click here to read his take.