These people are forgetting one thing: Barring unforeseen circumstances, she will be running against Barack Obama. During the 2008 campaign, Obama's biggest obstacle was his lack of experience. Just about every candidate in the Democratic field had more experience than he did. John McCain certainly did. Sarah Palin, however, did not, and does not. This is one of the (many) reasons McCain's choice of her as his running mate was such a bad move; it weakened one of his best arguments against Obama: that he, McCain, was more experienced. Democrats and Republicans traded charges of who was more or less experienced - Obama or Palin? What counts more, being a United States senator, or a governor? Does being mayor of a small town count as "executive" experience? Is that somehow more important than the "legislative" experience Obama had?
But in 2012, all that will be moot. There were many people who had serious doubts about Obama in 2008 because of this lack of experience. In 2012, not so much. Obama was always a great candidate - inspiring speaker, great story, very charismatic. In 2012, he will have the experience to match.
But Palin will only have a little more than two years as Governor of Alaska. Her last notable decision in that position will be to quit.
Thinking of it in these terms, I think I have a little bit more of a clue as to why she quit. Right now, she hasn't failed at anything. Other than being governor, that is. She's still very popular with the Republican base. If she really wants to be president, she should run for reelection in 2010, to address the experience issue. Being a one-term governor would still mean questions about her experience - two terms puts that to rest. But Being governor in 2012 will interfere with her ability to campaign, considering how far away Alaska is from, say, New Hampshire.
More importantly, being governor in 2012 and running for president will also interfere with her ability to make money. She won't be able to go on quite as many highly lucrative speaking engagements, etc., etc.
So suppose she doesn't run for reelection in 2010, but does decide to run for president. She'll be spending almost all of her time doing that: raising money, meeting people, etc. Fundraising for her presidential bid will interfere with her fundraising for Todd and the kids.
But there is one little six-letter word which really captures the great impediment to her ability to make money: losing.
If she runs for president in 2012 and is the Republican nominee, she will get creamed by Obama. Unless he completely screws up, and it looks like he won't, he'll win in a cakewalk. He's already done it, he'll have all the advantages of incumbency, and most demographic trends are going his way. He owns the African-American vote, the young vote, and Hispanics are ever-more alienated from the GOP.
But she probably won't even make it to the point of being the nominee. Remember Rudy Giuliani? Haven't seen him on a talk show recently. Whether or not she is governor in 2012, she might very well get whacked in the first primary.
I think she quit because she knows she has to strike while the iron is hot. Part of her appeal, let's be honest, is the fact that she's beautiful. But she's 45, and she's not getting any younger. I think she's bored and frustrated with being governor of Alaska, and she knows that if she runs in 2012, she may very become even more of a laughingstock than she is now.
She'll always have fans. But right now, she has the most she will ever have. The vast majority of them do not live in Alaska, but would love to vote for her, and are willing to do so with their wallets and purses. She's doing exactly what conservatives advocate as a basic tenet of capitalism - acting in her own best self-interest. What I find odd is that there are still people who think she will somehow act in their best self-interest, too. You don't have to fool all the people all the time to make some good money.