Commentary: It's time to take Sarah Palin seriously

See Sarah talking to big crowds.

See Sarah shooting massive elk.

See Sarah ripping President Barack Obama.

See Sarah moving into the White House in January 2013?

Some may cringe at that idea. Or some may think it would be the greatest thing since Abraham Lincoln.

But here’s the deal: Many card-carrying members of this country’s political intelligentsia — even some who believe the republic would never be the same after a President Sarah Palin — no longer regard that possibility as wildly far-fetched.

In fact, the conventional wisdom is in rapid realignment mode based on an array of realities.

First, consider the state of the GOP presidential field. No clear front-runner. No leading candidate without a fundamental flaw (or two).

On paper, Mitt Romney comes as close as you’ll get to an early leader. He’s got money, organization in early primary states and chiseled features aligned just right for Mount Rushmore.

But as governor of Massachusetts, Romney pushed and passed a near-universal health care plan. So you’ve got to wonder if the GOP, which has castigated the Obama plan, would go with a nominee who did much the same thing.

In Iowa in 2008, conservative Republicans ripped Romney as a flip-flopper on abortion and not a true believer in the conservative cause. Those arguments haven’t gone away.

Thrice-married Newt Gingrich is widely seen as wildly undisciplined and incapable of repeating the same talking points day after day, month after month, which is what running for president entails.

Mike Huckabee is popular in Iowa and with religious conservatives, but his Achilles heel may be an inability to raise the kind of serious campaign jack needed for a national campaign.

Dark horses abound. John Thune. Chris Christie. Mitch Daniels. Haley Barbour. But they are all starting from scratch in a party that historically has gone with candidates who have already run for president once or twice.

All that brings us to Palin, the hit reality show star and tea party endorser whose political career seemed to be over in 2009 when she abruptly resigned as governor of Alaska. The case for her candidacy begins with her strength in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Evangelical voters tend to dominate the GOP caucuses in Iowa, and those voters could help Palin overcome early soundings that place her behind Romney and Huckabee. Tea parties have roots in each of those four early states, and Palin continues to be the queen of the tea party ball.

Veteran political reporter Major Garrett, now of the National Journal, said at a recent Dole Institute of Politics forum in Lawrence that Palin would be the “instant front-runner” if she ran in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Even Huckabee acknowledged recently that Palin could “run away” with the GOP nomination.

She could raise bales of money quickly. And a little coaching might turn a candidate known for fuzzy answers into one with a little gravitas.

Consider this: Palin could delay her entry into the presidential race, gin up excitement, then crash the GOP party late next year in what would amount to a magnificent roll of the dice.

My take: I still can’t say “President Palin” without stumbling all over myself. Is she presidential material? Not yet. And I think much of the country knows it.

But the other reality of presidential politics these days is that the unexpected rules. Who would have thought just three short years ago that Hillary Clinton would somehow not be the 2008 Democratic nominee?

The new paradigm just might apply to a reality show TV star who quit her job as governor.

That Palin is still being talked about in the context of 2012 is remarkable in itself.

We know one thing for sure: If Palin runs and beats a beleaguered Obama, that would make for one heck of a reality TV show.