On Friday, Sarah Palin, whose endorsement may have the most impact in the 2016 GOP presidential contest if she does not run, said that though she did not have a 2016 favorite yet, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) were at the top of her list.
Former South Carolina Senator and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint has said that Palin’s endorsement has the most impact in GOP primaries, and a recent national survey found that Palin had the highest favorability rating among Republican presidential primary voters.
Appearing on Fox News’s On The Record with Greta Van Susteren the night before she closes out CPAC for the second time in three years, Palin was asked if a potential candidate was emerging as her favorite.
“No, not yet,” she answered without hesitation.
Van Susteren then asked if there were candidates who were at the top of her list.
“I appreciate those who have fought for America like Ted Cruz, like Rand Paul,” Palin answered before saying that, perhaps, the best candidate may not even be a politician.
“It doesn’t have to be someone who has a title today, someone who’s in office today,” Palin said. “In fact, some would say we need to stay clear of those who have followed a conventional political path. Maybe they are a part of the problem.”
“There are businessmen and women and strong family men and women who understand what it is that makes America exceptional, and they want to protect that, they want to get back to that; maybe someone like that will rise and be the 2016 candidate, maybe that’s what we need,” she explained.
When asked if she would run in 2016, Palin gave the same answer she always gives: “You never say never.”
She said she does not have a team “doing the poll-tested, whatever they do” to figure out what messages work and test the waters in early presidential primary states. Palin said that she’ll “never say never” and run if there aren’t fighters that appreciate and want to fight to preserve American exceptionalism and the promise of America. Palin said there are so many Americans who “feel like I feel” and “serve this country” and mentioned that “it doesn’t have to be me” running for president.
She praised Rick Santorum in December in 2011 when Iowans seemed lukewarm about the field of Republican primary candidates. After Palin made her remarks on December 2 on Fox News’s Hannity, Santorum, who was at four percent in the polls in Iowa – barely above Jon Huntsman, who was not even competing in the state – started getting momentum and eventually won the caucus a month later. Though Santorum had gone “all-in” in Iowa and planted his campaign exclusively in the state, voters were persuaded to consider his candidacy more seriously after Palin spoke kindly of him.
Palin has influence in South Carolina as well, of course – her support of Nikki Haley in the 2010 primary ensured she won the Palmetto State’s gubernatorial election – and her positive comments about Newt Gingrich enabled him to win South Carolina’s presidential primary in 2012.
While the 2012 GOP presidential primary had a clear establishment frontrunner in Mitt Romney and a bevy of weaker candidates who battled to be the anti-Romney, the 2016 primary has strong candidates across the board without a clear frontrunner. If they all run, potential candidates like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum would each have a significant group of supporters that may get them around 8-15% of the vote.
That may make Palin, if she chooses not to run, the 2016 kingmaker.