Pat Buchanan

When Sarah Palin, in a rambling lakeside announcement last July in Wasilla, said she was quitting as governor of Alaska because of the abuse she and her family were taking from petty politicians and a feral press, she was written off as dead by the pundits.

"A quitter, can't take the heat," was the Beltway consensus.

Yet, it seems that was no more the end of Sarah than it was the end of Richard Nixon when, after losing to Gov. Pat Brown in California in 1962, he spat at the press: "Just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

Six years later, Nixon took the oath on the Capitol steps.

Rush Limbaugh

And though the media have painted Palin as a ditz, no politician in memory has conducted a more brilliant pre-presidential campaign, if that is what she is about, than the lady who calls herself "the Mama Grizzly."

Consider Tuesday. Palin had gambled big by going into South Carolina to endorse Nikki Haley, a state legislator running last for the GOP nomination for governor -- against the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and a congressman.

Haley instantly vaulted into the lead, taking 49 percent on primary day, and is headed for the governor's mansion -- in a Palmetto State that holds what is often the decisive primary in presidential nomination runs.

Nikki was Sarah's kind of conservative with a populist touch.

But Terry Branstad is not. This ex-governor of Iowa, who served four terms ending in 1998, is a moderate. Yet Palin endorsed him in his comeback bid over a conservative backed by Dr. James Dobson and Mike Huckabee.

After his victory Tuesday, Branstad, too, is headed for the governor's mansion in a state that hosts the first big battle of 2012 -- the Iowa caucuses.

By bringing conservatives to Branstad's camp, Palin can claim some credit for returning him to office, though Mitt Romney backed Branstad earlier and his and Branstad's staffs are said to be wired.

The endorsement of Branstad suggests Palin, a politician of principle, has a pragmatic streak. She acts not only out of instinct but cold calculation. How else to explain the Branstad endorsement over a social conservative than a decision to befriend a future GOP governor in the first battleground state of 2012?

Other interventions this cycle reveal Palin to be far more savvy than the caricature drawn by the left.

Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative magazine, and the author of many books including State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America .
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