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Explainin’ Palin: All of The Above?

It’s by sheer coincidence that we’d happened to have a Sarah Palin item running earlier this afternoon at the time she announced that she was leaving Alaska’s governorship. I’ve been on a plane for the past six hours (the flight that I was supposed to take last night got cancelled). Fortunately, it was JetBlue, so I was able to watch a lot of TV.

There seem to be three* basic theories to explain why Sarah Palin decided to quit:

1. She’s simply burned out;
2. There’s some kind of “other shoe dropping”;
3. She’s so crazy she thinks this could actually help her for 2012, 2016, etc.

The point I’d add is that I don’t think these three things are mutually exclusive. In her press conference today, Palin didn’t seem sure of much of anything except that she’ll no longer be governor. She may have felt like being governor of Alaska had become a waste of her time when she can go about the country being a celebrity instead; she might have concerns for what the national media spotlight has done to her family; she might be worried that she’s made too many enemies in the state and that sooner or later one of these mini-scandals will blow up into a bigger one … AND she may be crazy and narcissistic enough to think this will actually help her chances for 2012.

It won’t, of course. Politicians have survived and been re-elected after being stigmatized as liars, hypocrites, and flip-floppers — but can someone who may forever be branded as a “quitter” become Commander in Chief? There’s almost no way. I can’t think of someone who has done something comparable to what Palin did today running for national office, let alone winning it. In her critics’ imaginations, she’s gone from being Dan Quayle to some permutation of Thomas Eagleton.

And today will make her critics more numerous. One gets the sense that the Republican establishment was already starting to have concerns about Palin’s electability — see particularly Charles Krauthammer’s recent comments. If Palin really is still in the running for 2012, today’s actions may turn those concerns into action items — like trying to build an “inevitability” narrative around Mitt Romney, or perhaps recruiting another populist conservative into the race to split Palin’s vote and ensure that she can’t win on some sort of plurality basis. I happen to think that these electability concerns are wise ones, and in the long run Palin may have done the GOP a big favor. In the short run, though, it’s going to be a long weekend for them in more ways than one.
* A fourth theory, I guess, is that she’s running for Senate, but that doesn’t make any sense at all. Why would she need to leave office to do that? And could she really beat Lisa Murkowski? My guess is that, after today, Palin would not only lose the primary to Murkowski but might do so by an embarrassing margin.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.