WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2010 -- We interrupt your regularly scheduled politics for another moment brought to you by Sarah Palin.
Palin is set to dominate yet another week. Her unique blend of celebrity, media, pop culture, and -- yes -- political engagement is again delivering near-ubiquity that's all the more remarkable for the fact that she does not actually hold any public office -- and that she's coming off of an election cycle with an endorsement record that's spotty at best.
That aside, the cable program about her family is setting records for TLC. Her daughter is a finalist on the TV sensation "Dancing with the Stars," complete with some controversy over the power of her mom's celebrity.
The former governor's second book, "America by Heart," is due to be released this week, complete with a book tour designed for yet another best-seller, and some well-crafted shout-outs for the tea party crowd.
Of course, Palin tweets all the while, driving debate over items as varied as tax cuts, cookie ingredients and airport security screening in bursts of 140 characters or less.
In short, it's just another week in Palin nation. And once again, the Republican establishment is left simultaneously fascinated by and dreading the GOP's biggest star.
Former first lady Barbara Bush was channeling that establishment with her characteristic frankness when CNN's Larry King asked an innocuous question, seeking her "read" on Palin.
"I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful. And I think she's very happy in Alaska -- and I hope she'll stay there," Bush said.
But the point is that she isn't staying in Alaska, not in any meaningful sense. Palin is a bigger national sensation than she was even as vice presidential nominee in 2008, and her every maneuver casts a shadow on the slowly emerging field for 2012.
In the year and a half since she defied well-wishers' advice and left her job as Alaska's governor, Palin has become a best-selling author; a millionaire many times over; a frequent, high-impact guest on the nation's top-rated cable news channel; a force in the reality-show world; a world-class Twitter and Facebook user; and perhaps the top irritant to Democratic and Republican office-holders alike.
Even if this wasn't a result of a grand plan -- and close advisers insist that it wasn't -- it leaves Palin as the dominant force in Republican politics at a time when the GOP is set to take over control of the House, and a host of eager and experienced politicians start putting muscle into presidential operations.
Just a few words to ABC's Barbara Walters -- "I believe so," Palin said, when asked whether she could beat President Obama in 2012 -- most likely garnered more attention than the accumulated efforts of all the other potential challengers for the GOP nomination this month.
This fact is, of course, of no small annoyance to the deep bench of Republicans who have built resumes and records that set them up for this moment of a wide-open nomination season.
Palin stands separate from other potential 2012 candidates, freed of most traditional obligations and expectations, since she's made a habit of defying conventional wisdom.
Save perhaps former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has the organization and fundraising base in place from his last run, Palin has more flexibility than any other Republican contender in terms of choosing methods and a timeframe.
If she does run, she confronts skepticism like few other candidates have faced down -- and not just from establishment voices.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last month found that 67 percent of registered voters don't consider Palin qualified to be president -- not simply that they don't want her to serve in the job, but that they don't consider her qualified to hold it.
Conventional wisdom, of course, would hold that Palin is better served where she is now, as the most successful practitioner of a new blend of celebrity and politics, rather than as a candidate for president.
But conventional wisdom has never held much sway with Palin herself. Last summer, barely half-way into her single term in elected statewide office, Palin resigned her post, with the memorable aphorism that "only dead fish go with the flow."
The ensuing year and a half seems to have validated her instincts. For better or worse, Palin now sets the pace for a Republican Party that senses vulnerability in President Obama, one Tweet and one reality show at a time.