Back when I was a Republican political operative (everyone experiments in their youth) the path to the White House was fairly standard: form a leadership PAC to help other candidates, launch an exploratory committee, raise a lot of money ($20 million!), do well in the Iowa Straw Poll, line up some good endorsements, build momentum in time for the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and maybe, just maybe you'd end up in the Oval Office.
Things have changed considerably since I worked for Lamar Alexander and John McCain in the 2000 primaries – again, everyone experiments in their youth.
It's looking more and more like the GOP path to 2012 runs directly through Fox News.
Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee who is widely considered to be eyeballing 2012, has his own Fox News program each weekend. Just last month Fox executives were forced to tell Huckabee to stop plugging a website on-air, which he'd repeatedly promoted, after it learned "that it linked to his political action committee, which the network deemed a conflict of interest." Despite his bosses' reported order to stop the promotion, Huckabee has continued to plug, both on-air and on FoxNews.com, his personal website that leads visitors to his PAC.
Then there is the former half-term Alaska Governor who announced this week that she'd signed on to be a contributor at Fox News. In what was surely a glimpse of things to come, Sarah Palin's first day on the job included a softball interview with Bill O'Reilly. As Media Matters' Simon Maloy noted:
The financial terms of Palin's agreement with Fox News have not been disclosed, but it's safe to assume that she isn't working for peanuts. With that in mind, it's worth pointing out that Palin spent much of her Fox News debut defending her own record and reputation, hawking the biography she pretended to write, and promoting the Tea Party convention at which she is being paid to speak (though she claimed that the money she makes from the event will go towards campaign donations). The rest of her "analysis" consisted of conservative bromides about the evils of government and tired attacks on the media. She was essentially paid by Fox News to put on an infomercial for herself.
There's also been bizarre, perhaps crazy, speculation on the network that Palin will form a ticket in 2012 with Fox News' Glenn Beck. Quit laughing.
Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich even announced this week that he's considering a run for the White House in 2012 – the same speculative announcement he made in 2008 mind you.
So there you have it. At least three potentially major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are going head to head in the 2012 Fox News shadow primary.
So, when are Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty going take the plunge and join in the fun?
How Fox News expects to provide the 2012 Republican primaries with "fair and balanced" coverage when it employs so many of the potential candidates is anyone's guess.