Palin: "Bigger" Than Obama, or Quitter?

Is Sarah Palin still a star, or a fading quitter? What does the future hold for her?

If a three-way discussion among Republican pundits on "The Early Show Saturday Edition" is any indication, more of the same -- she'll remain as controversial and passion-provoking rod as ever.

Author and right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter, GOP strategist Bay Buchanan, and founder and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum had at it over the question of whether Palin could be a viable presidential candidate at some point.

It got so heated the three were talking over each other, prompting co-anchor Erica Hill, who moderated, to interrupt them herself several times.

Palin, who was John McCain's running mate, formally steps down as Alaska's governor Sunday, with her poll numbers steadily dropping, facing numerous ethics investigations, openly admitting she had trouble getting her agenda through the state legislature, and contending she can do a better job for the people of Alaska from outside its statehouse.

Buchanan said Palin's quitting will tarnish her severely, Coulter claimed Palin is still so big she's even a bigger story than President Obama, and Frum cited the very discussion they were having as proof of how divisive Palin is, even in her own party.

"She's hurt herself badly if indeed she wants to run for president of the United States, America," Buchanan said. "As much as I'm crazy about her and think she's enormously talented, she's done two things ... I think has damaged her opportunity. That is she hasn't really gotten herself an expertise on the issues. She comes down to the lower 48 (states) unprepared for the media, in my personal opinion, with kind of trite responses to their questions. And secondly, she's quit. Quitting is not a good thing. It will hurt her badly in the long run, makes her less electable."

Coulter countered, saying Palin can overcome any "quitter" label anyone associates with her. "I don't know that Sarah Palin wants to run for president," Coulter said, "but she's already a bigger story than the president of the United States. There were two stories yesterday. For the first time, this 'Mr. Popularity,' President Obama's popularity, public approval ratings fell below 50 percent, for the first time. Editor's note: Coulter was referring to the daily presidential tracking poll of likely voters done by RasmussenReports, in which Mr. Obama's approval rating slipped to 49 percent Friday, and stayed there Saturday; Rasmussen is generally viewed as a conservative-leaning organization) And a former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin's public approval ratings fell to 40 percent (in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll). What was the big story? She's already bigger than Obama. She attracts a crowd."

Coulter added, "She's up there, she's had 17, 18 ethics complaints filed against her. Everybody wants her to speak for them, everybody wants to attack her, and she has her hands tied behind her back because she has to be governor, not only in terms of fund-raising (for other GOP candidates and herself). ... She's too big to be stuck in a governor's office up in Alaska."

Frum was having none of it. "Michael Jackson is also a bigger story than the president of the United States, but the American people aren't going to vote for him," Frum remarked. "Look, she's 45 years old, she's been the governor of a state; if she hasn't got the expertise, she's never going to get it.

"Basically, quitting for the stated reason that you can't get anything done in your job and because you can't endure the criticism you're receiving and then cashing in in order to make a lot of money is not a good resume with which to run for president of the United States. She was a calamitous candidate in October of 2008. We've never seen poll numbers for ... any national candidate decline as fast as they did for Sarah Palin. The more the American people know her, the more unacceptable she became and that trend's going to continue."

"The Michael Jackson comparison is silly, David," Coulter said. "Sarah Palin is not a singer. These are both (Palin and Obama) politicians."

"Apparently," Coulter continued, "she's getting ratings, or everybody wouldn't be constantly talking about her. She has a quality -- people are attracted to her and she's a quick study, she can learn if she wants to, and I totally disagree this is bad for her to quit. She's already done everything she needs to do. She turned over the governorship to the lieutenant governor, who's a fantastic right winger."

"There's a commitment you make when you for elected office," Buchanan insisted. "And that is -- to the voters -- that you're going to be there in office fighting for them for that period of time. She broke that trust. That is extremely harmful."

"That's absolutely false," Coulter said. "The voters of Alaska are delighted with what she did, because they're sick of these investigations."

"And I've run campaigns," Buchanan came back at Coulter, "and I'll tell you, you have somebody who quits and what you do is tell the people, you can't trust that person to stay in there for them."

Frum happened to get the last word: "I think this exchange shows what a wonderful uniter Sarah Palin is. If this is the effect she has on Republicans, this is not what you need. This is -- the Republican Party right now faces a couple of burdens. We know from the Bush years that we were seen - and I'm speaking as a Republican, as not competent, not effective. So we'd better find somebody who is seen as competent and effective. And a governor who quit because she said, 'I can't et my agenda through the state legislature,' it's harder to get things through Congress. She's not going to be much of a president."