GOP Base Gives Sarah Palin the Edge Over Mitt Romney in 2012

Where does Romney win in 2012 that he lost in 2008?

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Let’s go ahead and get ahead of ourselves: Andrew Sullivan says, “I think almost anyone can defeat Romney, a hologram of a politician defined only by ambition and great hair. Palin would destroy him.”

Daniel Larison, ever the font of good, hard sense, replies:

Do we really think that most Republican primary voters are more likely to nominate a woman for president than Democratic voters were two years ago? Do we really think that Republicans would prefer the less qualified candidate because she is a woman? Wouldn’t many Republicans want Romney to succeed to prove that the GOP is not dominated by religious conservatives who will not support a Mormon candidate? Wouldn’t that impulse to show religious tolerance overwhelm any impulse to promote Palin beyond her ability just to get credit for nominating the first woman nominee? If the 2012 nomination contest comes down to a head-to-head fight between Romney and Palin, there appears to be every reason to think that Romney prevails.

Rather than argue in broad strokes, let’s think regionally. Or let me ask Larison directly: Where does Romney win in 2012 that he lost in 2008? Does he beat Palin in Iowa? Possibly: Even though she boasts enormous netroots-style chops, it remains to be seen whether Palin has what it takes, organizationally, to win a caucus, at which Romney excels.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on Sarah Palin.]

Does he beat her in New Hampshire? Let’s assume, given his New England ties, that he does. Throw in Michigan for identical reasons. Then comes South Carolina. And then Super Tuesday. Assuming Huckabee doesn’t run, Palin will crush Romney in Dixie, and she has obvious “Mama Grizzly” appeal in the Mountain states.

The Midwest and the Northeast will be competitive. There will be an anyone-but-Palin factor—but, in an open contest, this vote will split in any number of directions. Maybe that, plus the “It’s his turn” default thinking that seems to dominate Republican primaries, is enough to lift Romney in 2012.

But how can Larison feel confident that Romney can win in ’12 when he failed miserably against a candidate whom the Republican base mistrusted or even loathed—the same Republican base that embraced Palin like the cheapest date in the history of American electoral politics?

I hope against hope that Larison is right and that Sullivan is characteristically unhinged. Because I really don’t want to spend 2012 as an ex-Republican.