This is where my mind wonders while I'm shaving. For her, its a way to stay in the spotlight without having to do all the legwork that a serious candidate would have to do to get the Republican nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein points out on his blog (linked to on the side of my blog as 'A Plain Blog About Politics), she hasn't been willing to do those things that a candidate typically has to do to get the Rep nomination.
And what else is Palin but non-typical? She also came into the national spotlight as a fellow maverick along side John McCain. Bucking the traditional path as the Republican nominee would fit with that narrative. She could sit by while the Reps are having their primary debates and pick her spots when she wants to insert herself into discussions. She would have the pulpit of Fox News to be able to do that effectively.
The big problem here is that she would have no chance at winning the presidency. Whereas if she were to somehow get the Republican nomination she would have a pretty good chance at winning. Plus I think its possible that she is popular enough with conservatives that if she were to do this she would draw a lot of votes away from the Rep who actually had a chance to win.
So the only way this is possible is if she is convinced she can't win the Rep nomination and thinks she has something to benefit from running, be that more time in the spotlight or kind of a f-you to the party. Of course, this is all just crazy rambling on my part and it has about as much chance at happening as I have at getting a date with Kristin Kreuk. Coming back to reality, I think Palin will be happy to keep cashing checks from Fox News and the speaking circuit. Those things will probably be enough to satisfy her need for the spotlight and a big bank account. Plus it would leave open the possibility of running in 2016 if Obama were to win in 2012.
But if she was really serious about governing and making public policy I think this would be a bold move that would at least net her some concessions with a party that would be scared that she could cost them a lot of votes. The Republican party would have no choice but to concede to her demands. And I think that is what intrigues me the most about this and probably why I thought of it in the first place. She is much more popular than Ralph Nader and probably Ross Perot. Being the plurality system we are the US, those candidates weren't popular enough to draw a significant enough portion of the votes away from the main candidates so that they had to do something to get them out of the race.
That is why the US has been only a two party system. Its just way to hard on a national level to win an election with a smaller coalition than two parties. So the political scientist in me wants to test this with a person who has a strong base that likes her personally.