Conservative voters, it seems, began to get the message: It was OK to like Palin and to believe she was a victim of the left and its allies and to still conclude that she wasn't presidential material. By the end of December, polls began registering a marked uptick in Palin's unfavorable scores, even among Republicans.
I really don't think that's the real cause, although it would flatter many in Washington to think so. My own view is that the reality show did real damage. It put Palin in a different context than politics, and revealed her phoniness in ways even she couldn't spin. Weigel sees how that led up to the coup de grace:
When does the unfavorable number spike? Right after January 8, 2011 — the day Jared Loughner went on his shooting spree. Palin was unfairly dragged into that story because Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot by Loughner, was on Palin's "target map." (There's no evidence that Loughner cared about this.) But she made the story worse for her by recording a video, right when interest in the Palin/political rhetoric was starting to wane, attacking the media for the "blood libel" it had engaged in. That may have been it for Palin.
I still think her raw political talent shouldn't be under-estimated given the truly underwhelming character of the current GOP race. But on this question, I truly would love to be proven wrong. My entire issue with Palin from the get-go has not been that she is somehow nuttier than many others (though she is). It is that no one that nuts should ever be able to get so close to such power at such short notice. Mercifully, we escaped that. But it was touch-and-go there for a while.
(The "definitely real" screenshot via HuffPo)