Editor Richard Stevenson made an unusual appearance on the front page of the Sunday Week in Review with "Eyeing a Tiger to Ride," a think-piece on how Sarah Palin fits into today's populist political climate.
Ever-sensitive to signs of Republican splits, the Times questioned whether the GOP should "try to energize their electoral prospects by hitching themselves to the powerful but volatile strain of populism - characterized by anti-elitism and deep skepticism of government - that Ms. Palin has come to embody?"
The renewed potency of populist conservatism has been on display since the summer, when health care town hall meetings became a forum for frustrated voters, angry at President Obama and Congressional Democrats over the issue of government expansion, and also at Republicans suspected of not fighting aggressively enough.
But even as conservatives exult in Mr. Obama's declining job approval ratings, the drive for ideological purity inspired by the populists of the right has left many elected Republicans nervous and concerned.
Just ask Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina or Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, rock-solid Republicans who now are accused of being insufficiently ideologica. Consider too the recent election in upstate New York, in which a dispute between conservatives and moderates cost Republicans a House seat they had held for generations.
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 and is a potential 2012 president candidate, cited the 1994 House elections as a model for what the party can accomplish now. In that election, he said, Republicans attracted voters who in 1992 had backed H. Ross Perot's third-party candidacy....But if he is eager to court Ms. Palin's fans, he seems ambivalent about Ms. Palin herself.
Under repeated prodding about her qualifications for the presidency Thursday from Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball," Mr. Barbour mustered only a half-hearted, "I don't know of anything that disqualifies her from being president." He, like other Republicans, is well aware that the populist wave she is riding could upend the party's established order.
Given that the Times just noted Barbour himself was a potential 2012 candidate, how can the paper totally discount the possibility that his evasive answer reflects self-interest, and not necessarily qualms about Palin's qualifications?