Sarah Palin's brand would have been damaged by presidential run

Republican and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd Palin, have six children: sons Track, Trig, and daughters Bristol Sheeran Marie, Willow, and Piper. Palin's youngest child, Trig, was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. She is also a grandmother of two. Story: Most of Forbes' most powerful women are moms Special Section: Back to School "The Early Show:" Parenting
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She may have spent much of 2011 fanning speculation about her entering the race, but make no mistake: Sarah Palin would have been nuts to run for president.

That's because she had almost no chance to win - and unlike lesser-known candidates through the years, she had nothing to gain from a loss. In fact, a run would have likely seriously diminished her stature.

In announcing her decision to sit out the 2012 campaign, the former vice presidential nominee echoed her earlier suggestion that she could be "shackled" by entering the race, telling conservative radio host Mark Levin that she needs "to be able to say what I want to say" in order to "hold both sides of the aisle accountable," something she suggested would be impossible if she were a candidate.

Perhaps. But the reality is that Palin simply wasn't a serious contender for the nomination - and if she were to run and lose, her brand would have taken a serious hit. Consider: In the CBS News poll released Tuesday, just 21 percent of voters said they had a favorable view of the former Alaska governor - while a full 50 percent had an unfavorable view.

And while Republican primary voters have a more positive view of Palin, her numbers aren't great there either: 41 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable. Someone as well known as Palin likely wouldn't be able to move the needle all that much - these figures, it's worth noting, nearly match CBS News findings from one year ago, which suggest Palin's public image has settled in peoples' minds.

It's possible that in a fractured primary environment someone as divisive as Palin could win a primary or two - but any success she might have had would almost certainly have prompted Republicans to rally around a candidate who polls suggested was better positioned to defeat President Obama next November. In the new CBS News poll, three in four Republican primary voters said they didn't want her to enter the race.

And why would Palin walk away from what she has for that? She's got a lucrative soapbox on Fox News and multiple income sources, from paid speeches to bestselling books to a reality show; she would have had to give much of that up had she run, including her Fox News contract.

There are reasons to run a losing presidential campaign, of course. For someone like Rick Santorum or Herman Cain, a losing campaign (if that's what they end up running) can still be a win, since it raises their national profile significantly. But Palin's profile is already sky high, and a losing campaign would have been a brand-diminishing embarrassment to a woman about whom a laudatory documentary called "The Undefeated" came out over the summer.

Palin knew all this, but that didn't stop her from repeatedly claiming that she might enter the race - even as her potential rivals scooped up staffers, developed their fundraising network and ground game and reached out to key figures in early voting states. Cynics will say she never intended to run but only pretended to in order to keep the media's eye focused on her, as it was when she crashed the Iowa straw poll over the summer.

Ultimately, it's impossible to know for sure whether her long presidential flirtation was serious. But one thing we can say with confidence is that her decision to end it - finally - was almost certainty good news for Palin Inc.