Sarah Palin has always been a little too smart for her own good, which is to say that she believes that she has more on the ball than anyone else when it comes to making the decisions that determine the course of her political career.
This explains why she openly resented the handlers dispatched by the people running John McCain's 2008 campaign to help manage her end of things. This explains why she has persisted in surrounding herself with sycophants and not professionals who are not afraid to talk back to her as she has zigzagged toward deciding whether to join the 2012 fray. And this explains why she is on her way to becoming the answer to a trivia question, as one wag put it recently, as the leaders of the field of declared Republican presidential candidates steal a march on her.
There is always the possibility that in Palin's heart of hearts, or whatever beats inside her chest, she never intended to seek the Republican nomination but would milk the speculation for all that it was worth -- which is to say add to the millions she has made peddling vapid autobiographies and through television appearances. But that scenario does not take into account Palin's Alaska-sized ego, and a more likely scenario is that she would wait in the wings as the Republican field slugged it out through the summer Iowa mini-campaign and then enter the fray as the candidate who would bring order out of chaos.
But a funny thing happened on the road to the Hawkeye State and beyond: Rick Perry threw his hat in the ring.
The Texas governor is Palin's worst nightmare in several respects. His cred with the party's fundamentalist base is rock solid and he doesn't have to pander to it like Palin, unlike Palin he is not a quitter, and unlike Palin he is able to articulate policy positions no matter how extreme while not shying away from the tough questions that the mainstream occasionally throws between the softballs.
Palin, of course, has a seemingly unlimited capacity to say outrageous things while blindering herself to larger realities.
She let loose a humdinger while hanging out with the goats and folks at the Iowa State Fair last week in accusing the news media of failing to give voters a fuller picture of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign and that is why voters chose he and Joe Biden.
The truth, of course, is that Obama was an open book while Palin hid from the news media at virtually every turn, which nevertheless fawned on her and to this day remains uncurious regarding some of the mysteries surrounding her.
Sarah Palin will be missed by her small but devoted constituency, while what passes for a Republican mainstream will breathe a huge sigh of relief that there is one less wingnut in the race. And turn their attention to sticking pins in Michele Bachmann voodoo dolls.
Photograph by Eric Thayer for The New York Times