Chris Cilizza at The Fix draws our attention today to an interview Sarah Palin did with conservative talk show host Lars Larson. When Larson asked whether she would consider running as a third party candidate, she told him “That depends on how things go in the next couple of years.” When pressed she added that if the Republican Party gets back to its conservative base, there wouldn’t be a need for a third party, but that she would “play that by ear in these coming months, coming years.”
Cilizza remarks that it sounds like she’s “leaving the door wide open.” While running as a third party candidate might not seem to make much sense—she would have almost no chance to win and it would badly split the Republican vote—Palin certainly seems capable of striking out on her own. It is not simply that it would be in keeping with her maverick persona or that she has never been shy about furthering her own ambitions at the expense the of the party. As I have written before, there is a battle for control of the Republican Party. The so-called conservative base—whom Palin represents—feels strongly that a more moderate Republican Party hardly worth supporting. As they showed in New York’s 23rd District by backing Doug Hoffman against the more moderate party nominee, they are willing to risk hurting the party’s chances to see their candidates win. So they may be willing to consider the nuclear option of supporting an independent Palin, even if it means sabotaging their own party.
It probably would ensure another victory for Obama. As I wrote yesterday, Palin’s negatives are high and her appeal to swing voters is limited. She would have a hard time winning even if she ran as a Republican. As a third party candidate she would have almost no chance. Only former President Teddy Roosevelt, running in 1912 against incumbent President William Howard Taft, ever placed as high as second. And with 27% of the electorate voting for him, Roosevelt essentially gave the election to Woodrow Wilson, who won with a mere 42% of the popular vote. Because Palin speaks for a large and alienated number of conservatives, she would probably siphon off enough conservative votes to make it next to impossible for the Republican nominee to win. Of course, conservatives would prefer to use the threat of a split as leverage to demand that Palin or someone with similar views be the party’s nominee. But if they don’t get their way, we really could see Palin running as an independent in 2012.