The "tribe" is shorthand for the millions of white conservatives who inhabit the vast expanses outside the elite coastal enclaves. She calls these folks "patriotic, good-hearted Americans" and they return her affection in spades (Palin's book has stayed on Amazon's Top 100 list for over 100 days and also holds on to its No. 1 ranking on the New York Times best seller list for hardcover non-fiction.) They know what they know and like their hero, they don't take cues from the "lamestream media," environmental scientists or Ivy League economists. In Sarah Palin, they finally have a kinsman who can give voice to their inchoate dissatisfaction with nearly everything about the Age of Obama.
That's why Palin, not Mitt Romney, Michael Steele or Tim Pawlenty, got the invite to deliver the keynote to "Tea Party Nation" next month in Nashville. She also got the nod over firebrand invitees like World Net Daily's Joseph Farah, Judge Roy Moore and Michelle Bachmann.
Compared to those three, Palin comes across as a relative middle-of-the-roader, though there's always the risk of becoming identified as the face of a movement defined by paranoid anger.
David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager in 2008, is on record describing Palin as "our best fundraiser." What with her new propensity for Twitter drive-by pronouncements, there's no shortage of material to quote.
Still, Palin does know how the game gets played. According to a Gallup poll she finished just behind Hillary Clinton in the category of most admired woman of 2009. Count on Palin to cultivate that asset. To be sure, the tea partiers will act as willing shock troops, especially if she decides to seek the Republican nomination in 2012. But at this point, they need her more than she needs them. The tribe, defined by its extreme elements, remains a minority. That's why Palin turned down a chance to go to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington while agreeing to speak at the higher-profile Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
That may sound like the mother of double crosses but it's the way these things get done. The romantic wet kisses and all the other stuff - they save that goop for the memoirs.