Could Sarah Palin still compete for the Republican nomination if she wanted to?
Maybe not, longtime Republican operative (and occasional Palin adviser) Fred Malek told us on ABC's "Top Line" today.
While Palin may be the one candidate for whom traditional candidacy rules don't apply, the Republican presidential race appears to have settled into a contest between Gov. Rick Perry and former Gov. Mitt Romney.
"She could pick up a lot of support going in. But I think it is too late. I think the field is set, and I think it's a great field," Malek told us. "I think our nominee and the next president will be a governor. And I'm thankful for that."
Beyond whether it's possible for her to compete, Malek said it would be a bad move for Palin to try and run.
"I think it would be really, personally, not a good move for her. She's doing a very, very good job on the circuit. She's making money for her family, she's having influence on people nationwide, she's having influence on the race. I think anybody who gets the nomination is going to want to have her support because she energizes a lot of people."
"I don't think she should get in, and I don't think she will," he added.
Malek, who is active as a fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association, said he's "very happy" with Perry's entrance into the field. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., "will continue" to fade in the race, leaving Perry and Romney as the main contenders.
"I think that Rick Perry has a very big lead right now, and it's going to be difficult to surmount that," he said.
But he suggested that Perry needs to modulate the way he talks about Social Security, particularly to appeal to voters in the critical primary and general-election state of Florida.
Even if he believes the program is a "Ponzi scheme," Malek said, he'd be better served to talk about how he wants to fix it.
"I think raising the issue is good. Now he's gotta come up with a solution because I think people are looking for a solution to how do we salvage this program, how do we save it for everybody," he said.