The chickens have come home to roost. The eagle has landed. A bird in the hand is worth–never mind.

no whiningAlthough Governor Palin has returned to Alaska, the criticism hasn’t stopped from the Lower 48 (49 if you count DC.)  Palin called her critics “cowards” and “jerks” for complaining about her expensive wardrobe. She also seethed because anonymous Republican campaign sources told Fox (oh, the irony!) that she did not know Africa was not a country but a continent and could not name the three countries in the North American Free Trade Agreement. “I consider it cowardly” that they did not allow their names to be used, she said. It’s easy to conclude that she has wasted no time becoming a whiner.

Frankly, she has a point. If the criticisms are factually-based, those who made them should own up to them. At the same time, the fact that she is on the receiving end of such attacks is not only poetic justice (remember “palling around with terrorists”?) but also reflective of how little respect she earned within the campaign. Therein lies a warning for those 64% of Republicans who want her to run for president in 2012.

Yes, you read that right. According to a report in the HuffPost, 91% of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin, including 65% who say their view is Very Favorable. Only 8% have an unfavorable view of her, including 3% Very Unfavorable. Moreover, when asked to choose among some of the GOP’s top names for their choice for the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, 64% say Palin. Only Huckabee (12%) and Romney with 11% come close. Everyone else is in the single digits.

What sense do we make of these numbers? Has the GOP learned nothing from this election or is this wishful thinking, a fantasy aimed at sustaining the party’s hopes for the next 4 years? What does the McCain campaign know about Palin that seems to have escaped the notice of rest of the party? Let’s see, how about style-without-substance, lack of intellectual curiosity, self-absorption, and shameless self-promotion? Are those the qualities one associates with presidential success? Apparently so, in the GOP at least.

The next few years may be chillier than normal for Palin. The floundering economy is touching Alaska too. Because oil is the commodity on which Alaska’s economy is based, the state will face some fiscal issues from which it has been largely immune in the past. This in turn means she will have to deal with some state legislators who are less than pleased with the negative attention she attracted as the VP candidate. It will not be enough for her to declare herself a “maverick,” as if that produces self-evident solutions. Alaska will need bipartisan solutions for some tough problems. Then there are the potential distractions of Troopergate, using Yahoo for state business email, per diem payments for nights at home, and subsidizing her kids’ travel with state funds. And let’s not forget that she will likely have fewer friends in Congress this year. She has fences to mend, if you’ll pardon one more bucolic homily.

How Palin deals with these challenges in the next two years will be interesting to watch. If she is able to forge some kind of coalition in the legislature, fend off the sniping (much of it deserved), clean up her personal act (no more meetings in towels) and actually appear to have learned something from her experience, she may be a more formidable candidate than any of us want to believe. Those of us who supported Obama would do well to take her seriously and not lose sight of the support she has.