Ronald Reagan lost his first serious bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. Every speck of conventional wisdom would have said that was a deal breaker on any future chance to win. Not only did an aging Reagan lose, but he challenged the sitting president of his own party, Gerald Ford, and the Republicans lost the presidency.
Besides losing another four years, and putting himself in the position of being the oldest elected president, Reagan should have suffered the same fate as Ted Kennedy when he ran against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 primaries. No more presidential bids for Kennedy. When you take on your own party's president, and your party loses the White House, you burn lots of political bridges.
Instead of fading into second tier status as would happen to Kennedy, Reagan won the presidency in landslides in 1980 and 1984.
Richard Nixon's predicament was even worse. He actually lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, and then, adding insult to injury, the 1962 California governor's race to Edmund G. Brown Sr. Nixon "quit" politics with the wry observation “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” Talk about washed up. Nixon not only lost the presidency, but couldn't even win a governor's race. Of course, Nixon then went on to win the presidency in 1968 and 1972.
Sarah Palin has nothing to lose by running in 2012. First of all, she could win.
But, even if she loses the primary, she can run in 2016 or 2020, having learned the valuable lessons on how to wage a primary fight that Reagan learned in 1976. And unlike Reagan, she will not have the "old age" factor dogging her.
If she runs and wins the nomination but loses the presidential election in 2012, she can run again in 2016 also having learned the valuable lessons of running a presidential campaign that Nixon learned in 1960. Like Nixon, she will still be young.
Unlike Nixon, and similar to Reagan, Palin carries a mass of committed supporters into her campaigns. As Frank Luntz points out, Sarah Palin "has hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters on her side" and "doesn’t have to do it the way other candidates do it.”
"One thing is clear about her potential candidacy. Should she announce she would have an instantaneous national operation, grassroots operation that would be effective in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. But, anyone who tries to guess her is making a big mistake. It’s going to be difficult for her, should she decide to run, because of Michele Bachmann’s candidacy. They do appeal to the same people. But, Sarah Palin doesn’t have to play by everybody else’s rules because she has hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters on her side, and they would be motivated by her candidacy.H/T Sheya and Conservatives4Palin
"[Steve Doocy:] Frank, could Sarah Palin win?
"[Luntz:] It would be very tough at this point, but, you know, I’ve learned in this campaign we don’t know who’s running. We don’t know who’s out. We were all expecting Haley Barbour. We were expecting Mitch Daniels. Some people thought of Paul Ryan, Chris Christie. Who knows?"
. . .
"But, she ran a different campaign when she was the vice-presidential nominee. She’s always run, I guess you call it 'marching to the beat of your own drummer'. And that’s one of the reasons why she has such respect. But remember one thing, in the Iowa State Fair unlike all the other candidates that were surrounded by security people, Sarah Palin walked among the public virtually alone, shaking hands, connecting to people. She’s a breath of fresh air, and she doesn’t have to do it the way other candidates do it.”