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First thoughts: Palin-palooza

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Palin-palooza: So much for an uneventful July 4 holiday weekend, huh? The news Friday that Sarah Palin not only won't run for re-election in 2010 (which wasn't much of a surprise), but would also be resigning from office later this month (a complete shocker) was the latest drama to surround the former Republican presidential running mate. The questions on everyone's mind: Does this mean she WON'T be running for president in 2012? Or WILL she be running? And if so, does resigning 2 ½ years into her first statewide political term strengthen her hand or seriously weaken it? Well, in a July 4 posting on her Facebook page, she sure sounded like someone with dreams of the Oval Office dancing in her head. "[T]hough it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make," she wrote. Palin also fired off this Twitter message yesterday: "Critics are spinning, so hang in there as they feed false info on the right decision made as I enter last yr in office to not run again..."

*** Not Obama or Nixon: When she wrote that it's "honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling," Palin might very well have been referring to Obama, who began running for president just after two years into his first U.S. Senate term. But there is one big difference between the two: Obama's national reputation was pristine from the moment he gave that 2004 convention speech to his presidential announcement, while Palin's image (after the Bristol-Levi breakup, the feud with David Letterman, and that devastating Vanity Fair piece) is more of mixed bag. On Sunday, the New York Times also compared her decision to resign to Richard Nixon's exodus from politics before winning the '68 presidential election. But the difference between the two is that Nixon served eight years as vice president, two years as a U.S. senator, and four years as a congressman, while Palin has served in statewide office for just 2 ½ years. Indeed, Palin's decision to resign might only reinforce the perception that she's not a serious politician with the policy chops to be president in these serious times.

Video: William Kristol of "The Weekly Standard" talks with TODAY's Natalie Morales about the likelihood of a Sarah Palin run for the White House in 2012.

*** And I did it my way: All that said, the normal political rules don't seem to apply to Palin. Once removed from office, she will be flooded with requests for speaking engagements, and will turn mundane GOP congressional events into exciting rallies that draw her most ardent supporters (as well as those turning out to see a potential car wreck). In short, Palin's resignation was all about self-interest -- improving her financial standing and her political standing as the Republicans' biggest celebrity. And given her appeal to the GOP base, she knows she can do this her way. Palin definitely has a future as a conservative political celebrity, but does she risk her influence on a presidential run? She could end up having a parallel career to a Pat Buchanan -- active commentator with a loyal following and an occasional (but not successful) presidential candidate. Who has more to fear from Sarah Palin? Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty? Or Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

*** Geography and the calendar: There are two other legitimate reasons for Palin's resignation, if she's planning a presidential bid. One is geography. As political analyst Charlie Cook tells First Read, running for president was hard enough for Bill Clinton (in '92 from Little Rock) and for George W. Bush (in '00 from Austin), and it's probably even harder now that campaigns have begun earlier and have become more expensive. So just think about the challenges of running for president in 2012 from Juneau. "Someone might be an effective governor or a serious candidate but not both," Cook says. Second, Obama launched his presidential bid in Feb. 2007. If she used that same time frame, Palin would announce in Feb. 2011 -- just one month after she would have completed her first term. That's not nearly enough time to make money in the private sector, or build a national campaign team through considerable political travel in the Lower 48. But writing in Slate, Bruce Reed noted that politicians who have quit their day jobs to run for president (Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Bill Bradley, John Edwards) haven't been all that successful. Running while still holding office (Clinton, Bush 43, Obama) does still appear to be the better way to go.

*** Just askin': Who thought, as of early last week, that Sarah Palin would be resigning from office before Mark Sanford (we think)?

*** Obama in Russia: Turning to non-Palin news, President Obama already has arrived in Moscow, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Russian Soldier, and met with Russian President Medvedev at the Kremlin. At 10:50 am ET, the two leaders hold a joint press conference (although this appears to be running late). And afterwards, Obama greets U.S. embassy personnel and attends a dinner hosted by Medvedev. Of course, there will be plenty of glad-handing when Obama and Medvedev announce their nuclear-arms agreement of sorts. But the fine print needs to be worked out. And, frankly, it seems as if things already aren't going as well as perhaps the Obama administration originally hoped it would. In the last few days, in fact, it has been lowering expectations for this meeting. The two will announce the easy stuff today, including a framework for continued negotiations on nuclear arms reduction, as well as official Russian permission to use their air space for our military campaign in Afghanistan. But it's the hard stuff -- missile defense and Iran -- that will get most of the attention from the press, and there's little evidence of progress from either side on these issues.

Video: President Obama and his family have arrived in Moscow for a U.S.-Russia summit. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

*** From Russia with love? Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Obama's Russia trip is the semi-cold reception he's probably going to receive. It's not the Cold War, but it's not yet warm. Is it partly cloudy with a chance of cold or partly sunny with a chance of warmth? You decide. Indeed, today's early events were as gray and understated as the grayness of this city right now. The mood of the relationship and the weather do seem to match.

*** The world is flat watch: While the issues are completely unrelated, keep an eye on three hot spots today: China, Honduras, and Iran. All three countries are experiencing some domestic tumult -- ethnic clashes in China, the coup in Honduras, and of course the aftermath of the disputed election in Iran. As Buffalo Springfield famously noted, "There's something happenin' here, what it is ain't exactly clear." Then again, this could simply be a result of the world being flat, so we see and hear about everything now. 

*** $1.4 million a day? Wow. Finally, Congress returns this week from its July 4 recess, and its main work between now and August will be hammering out the details on health-care reform. Be sure to check out today's Washington Post story on the health-care lobbying effort, which notes that the health industry has hired "more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues," and that it's spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying. Wow, is there any way to describe this story other than the health-care industry has hired, LITERALLY, an army of lobbyists? (Speaking of lobbyists, Roll Call has an interesting story about which Democratic lobbyists have secured the best access to the White House. Here's a hint: They have ties to Daschle and Gephardt.) In other congressional news, it looks like Al Franken will be seated on Tuesday, and his nameplate outside his office will be installed today.  and

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 120 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 484 days

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