Forget who's going to win the nomination — who is most likely to become the next Sarah Palin?
Weep not for Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and the rest of the candidates vying for the GOP nomination.
Running for president may end up being the best business decision they ever made.
It doesn't matter that pundits expect Mitt Romney to be the Republican choice.
After all, Sarah Palin's failed 2008 vice-presidential candidacy demonstrated that the loser can share in the spoils, too.
Palin has turned her national candidacy into a media empire — churning out two books, generating as much as $100,000 for speaking gigs, and getting a reported $1 million annually as a Fox News commentator. She earned millions more from her TLC reality show series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
In less than a year, she racked up an estimated $12 million.
Forget who's going to win the nomination — who is most likely to become the next conservative media star?
During Tuesday night's presidential debate, the candidates continued their auditions. They once again tried to outdo one another with quips, catchy taglines and a few well-timed attacks.
“Running for president has always been a good platform, because you get free publicity,” Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told TheWrap. “Someone like Herman Cain wouldn’t be on TV all the time if he weren’t running for president.”
Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant on the Clinton and Gore presidential campaigns, pointed out that a dozen debates with an audience of as many as 6 million people can do wonders for the right candidates.
“You have to have a degree of charisma,” Lehane told TheWrap. “You have to be able to connect with viewers on television, but if you have something that distinguishes yourself from the group, you can really leverage your brand.”
So far, America, particularly a conservative swath of it, is buying what Cain is selling. Political pundits and media analysts say that the witty and spirited former head of Godfather’s Pizza has the best chance to cash in after the votes are cast and the concession speech is delivered.
“Cain has the charisma to sustain a second act,” Felicia Knight, president of the media strategy firm Knight Vision International, told TheWrap. “In order to have a second act, you have to have some kind of personality, whether it’s being abrasive or humorous, that draws people to you. People can be smart enough or bright enough to be commander in chief and not have that.”
All the television time has done wonders for sales of Cain’s autobiography “This is Herman Cain!,” which has shot up the best-seller charts since he threw his hat in the ring.
Indeed, it’s led to charges that Cain is more interested in moving copies of his life story than he is in rounding up delegates. Cain has been spending more time at book signings in states without early primaries than he has been lining up delegates in Iowa, his critics allege.
Bachmann, whose good looks and Bible-thumping have already led to comparisons with a certain former Alaska governor, could also conceivably start her own cottage industry if she decides not to run for congress again. She has the same passionate conservative base as Palin and a similar penchant for headline-grabbing remarks.
There are some who suspect, however, that Bachmann’s star fizzled out last summer when she was topping polls. A litany of political gaffes, such as claiming the Founding Fathers ended slavery, may have tarnished the Bachmann brand before the Minnesota congresswoman was ready to cash in.
“She doesn’t have the star power that Palin does,” Kondik said. “If you look at Bachmann’s trajectory, she shot up, but she shot back down again. She got good publicity, but her stock fell the more people got to know her.”
Nipping at Bachmann and Cain’s heels is Newt Gingrich, a man with more than 20 books to his name and a previous stint as a Fox News commentator. It’s possible that his candidacy will keep those royalties and speakers fees rolling.
By running for president, he's keeping the brand relevant. Some believe Palin attempted to do the same with her "is she or isn't she" presidential candidacy.
Beyond the big three, the picture becomes somewhat murkier. Analysts tell TheWrap that at this point, it seems more likely that Romney, Jon Hunstman, Rick Perry and Ron Paul will choose to remain in public life by working in government or in a foundation, instead of chasing fame.
Though Rick Santorum was previously a Fox News contributor, he may lack the sizzle to become a bigger cable news star, even if he has the desire.
Donald Trump didn't even file his papers, yet he reaped the benefits from his presidential fliration. He cut bait before primary season officially started, raising his media profile — and boosting ratings for "The Celebrity Apprentice" — without having to do something as unseemly as glad-hand in Des Moines or chomp down on a corndog.
Other candidates from both parties have used failed campaigns to further media careers. Mike Huckabee transformed his runner-up status into a Fox News show and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton has hosting duties over at rival MSNBC.
In fact, the line of campaign losers who have become media winners stretches back to Pat Buchanan, who went from giving George H.W. Bush agita in a 1991 primary challenge to offering his insight on the days political news for CNN and later MSNBC.
But Palin, and the millions she racked up, took it to a whole new level.
“She really became the queen of all media,” Stuart Schwartz, a former senior producer at ABC News, told TheWrap.
Schwartz said that the kind of cross-platform dominance Palin achieved, and that other Republican candidates are gunning for, couldn’t have taken place before the cable landscape became fractured.
“This sort of thing didn’t happen when you had three networks, but there are so many outlets and so many shows for people to bloviate on endlessly,” Schwartz said.
And voters are watching. The presidential debates have been getting good ratings on the various networks that have been airing them.
“GOP debates are great television,” Colby Hall, managing editor of Mediaite, told TheWrap. “They are a reality show. All of these candidates are really interesting and fascinating characters, including Ron Paul. It’s not just policy dorks that love to watch these things now. They have their own weird drama.”
Lucas Shaw contributed to this report