Why Sarah Palin Can't Run for President

In what was Sarah Palin's highest-profile speech since her address to the Republican National Convention in 2008, the former veep candidate addressed the National Tea Party Convention Saturday evening in Nashville. From the start, she took aim at President Obama and Democrats in Congress. Yet she also referred frequently to the problems with Washington in general, an insinuation that Republicans might also be to blame for the problems she and tea partiers see with the federal government. The basis of her speech, as she put it, was simple: rein in government spending, be more firm on national security, and keep the government out of businesses and people's lives. And not one person in the room didn't think she was dead right.

Palin was clearly preaching to the choir, an audience of 1,100 hanging on her every word. In the style of the State of the Union, the speech included dozens of applause lines that brought the room to its feet. The crowd even broke into chants of "Sar-uh, U-S-A!" and later on, "Run, Sarah, run," when discussing the prospects of a Sarah Palin presidency (a subject she skirted strategically). She even did something that Sarah Palin almost never does: take questions.

From a business sense, the speech was pure gold for Brand Palin. The former governor's speech to a friendly audience was broadcast nationally. She also made a pretty penny for it—rumored to be $100,000, which she vowed would go "right back to the cause" to her political-action committee, SarahPAC.

But business is business and politics is politics. Was tonight's speech helpful to building her appeal as a candidate? Hundreds who adore her streamed out of the ballroom with giggles, convinced that Sarah would be their gal in 2012. But the U.S. electorate, stubborn as it is, would disagree. Elections are won and lost in the middle, not on the extremes. Palin's fiery rebuke of Washington certainly firmed her base, but it did little to widen her appeal to moderates and independents, two groups without which she'd have a real tough time passing the threshold of electoral votes. (At one point, she even mocked the majority of voters who voted for President Obama, asking them, "How's that hopey-changey thing working for you now?")

Which is to say that electorally speaking, tonight's speech was a self-inflicted wound for Palin, offering ammo to opponents to argue that she's simply too far right and too niche to win widespread support for national office. Speeches like this make the people who love Palin love her even more, and the people who don't ever more certain why they don't. In other words, Palin further polarized herself with the American public.

That may have been the point. With tonight's speech, Palin cemented her role as the de facto head of the tea-party movement—but in a bigger sense, as the fearless warrior leading conservatives into battle in November and beyond. That might be where she's most effective (and undoubtedly where the pay is best). Because at this point, it's increasingly unlikely that she'll seek national office. Until now, the Palin guessing game has focused on whether she's running. On her current course, she simply couldn't win.