Sarah Palin has a serious future in presidential politics. Consider the history of an earlier figure of controversy in the Republican party: Two years before he ran successfully for president, Richard Nixon, a man defeated for president and then governor of California - saw an opportunity and made a calculation. The former vice president looked ahead to the 1966 mid-term elections and saw it as a big opportunity for a Republican comeback. He reckoned that it could also be a comeback for Richard Nixon. NBC correspondent Robert MacNeil witnessed Nixon reciting from memory the name of the Democratic incumbent, the Republican challenger and the local issues in fifty congressional contests in which he was about to campaign. He saw victory coming for his party and he banked on taking credit. When campaign aide Pat Buchanan talked with excitement about the '68 presidential campaign, Nixon said, "First '66." For Sarah Palin, the watchphrase is "First, 2010!" Watch her campaign this summer and fall for Republican candidates with an eye to who is likely to actually win. She will pick "Tea Party" types like South Carolina's Nikki Haley where they can win, mainstream Republicans like Iowa's Terry Branstad where they are solid favorites. What she needs to do is establish a solid win sheet to prove to party insiders and Republican voters alike that, whatever else can be said about her, she is an electoral heavyweight. Let's say it works. Let's say the Republicans score big this November and Palin's candidates score particularly well. Then it's off to the races and here's the presidential calendar: She wins the Iowa caucuses outright, triumphing among Christian evangelicals, benefiting from the good will of Governor Terry Branstad. She heads to New Hampshire, finishing second place or a strong third. Then back up to Michigan to a make-or-break test match with Mitt Romney, that state's political son. To those who fear her and those who love her, take heed. This Sarah Palin thing is not a drill. At least in her head, it's real and it's in a candidate's head that campaigns are conceived and committed to. You'll have plenty of time between now and February 2012 to check my words.