Is Bristol Palin Dancing Her Mother's Presidential Prospects Into Oblivion?

Her mother may be a fixture on Fox, but Bristol Palin seems more interested in the fox trot. If today's breathless reports are correct, America's most famous teenage parent is set to become a contestant on the new season of Dancing With the Stars.

It's obviously been a rollercoaster 18 months for young Bristol, what with giving birth then becoming an outspoken advocate of teenage abstinence. Not to mention her on-and-off engagement with Levi Johnston, all spilled onto the glossy pages of People magazine. And it raises the question: what must her mother be thinking?

All the clues suggest Sarah Palin is right in the mix for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, should she be interested. Consider the niche she's carved since resigning as Alaska's governor last year. A bestselling memoir, with another book in the pipeline. Keynote speaker at the National Tea Party Convention. Frenzied supporters attaching near biblical significance to her every Facebook post or tweet. And a litany of successful primary endorsements—including just this week, with obscure Alaska Senate contender Joe Miller appearing, in what would be a stunning upset, to have tipped out sitting senator (and Palin archnemesis) Lisa Murkowski.

Just one problem: the family. Palin can't seem to control it. As she conceivably gets set to tango with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for the chance to lead the free world, her daughter will be hoofing it with David Hasselhoff. Meanwhile, Levi files to run for mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin's old job.

Presidential candidates normally strive to exert iron control over their image. At a minimum, this means moving heaven and earth to keep the kids from becoming a distraction. For Palin, after parading her family at the 2008 Republican Convention and in subsequent media appearances, the horse has well and truly bolted. As she launches a bold and determined effort to rehabilitate herself, it must be highly stressful having to worry what silly thing Bristol will say next to a gossip reporter.

Bill Clinton is living proof of Americans' high tolerance for soap opera. But Clinton, like him or not, never had the challenge of proving his seriousness or mastery of policy. Earlier this year, when Bristol called off her engagement with Levi (amid allegations that he had fathered another child), Palin publicly counseled that her daughter would henceforth know to "trust, but verify." This was Ronald Reagan's signature phrase during tense weapons-reduction negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet Palin now invokes it with a wink to put down the family black sheep.

In the end, family values matter a great deal to GOP primary voters. And, sooner or later, if Palin contemplates a White House run, they are likely to contrast Bristol's antics with the wholesome image of Chelsea Clinton or, say, Mitt Romney's five sons. Of course, not all presidential offspring have been perfect. Teddy Roosevelt's daughter was a wild child known for late-night partying and riding in cars with mysterious men. "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both," he once sighed.

Palin is no Roosevelt—at least not yet. But if she wants to run for president, this mama grizzly needs to start getting tough with her own cubs.