KARL Rove, the former senior adviser to George W Bush, has cast serious doubt on Sarah Palin's viability as a White House candidate, questioning if the American people thought she had the "gravitas" for the "most demanding job in the world".
Expressing the strongest public reservations about the conservative star made by any senior Republican figure, Mr Rove said it was unlikely that voters would regard someone starring in a reality show as presidential material.
In two weeks, the former governor of Alaska launches a cable television series exploring her home state's wilderness.
"With all due candour, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office'," said Mr Rove, who remains a considerable force on the US political scene.
He added that the promotional clip for 'Sarah Palin's Alaska' could be especially detrimental to any political campaign. It features the mother-of-five in the great outdoors saying: "I would rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office."
Mr Rove also implied that Ms Palin lacked the stomach for the rigours of a presidential primary campaign, which will begin early next year before the first polls in 2012.
Mr Rove was asked if 46-year-old Ms Palin, who is among the front-runners for the next Republican nomination, would be a wise choice if the party wanted to seize the White House from President Barack Obama. He replied: "You can make a plausible case for any of them on paper, but it is not going to be paper in 2011. It's going to be blood, it's going to be sweat and tears and it's going to be hard effort."
He said Ms Palin had done a "terrific job" in 2008 when Senator John McCain took her from near obscurity to the vice-presidential nomination, but added: "Being the vice-presidential nominee on the ticket is different from saying 'I want to be the person at the top of the ticket'.
"There are high standards that the American people have for it (the presidency) and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say 'that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world'."
After losing with Mr McCain in 2008, Ms Palin resigned as governor to write books, become a television pundit -- on the same Fox News network where Mr Rove is an analyst -- and an influential supporter of Tea Party-backed Republican candidates in next week's mid-term elections.
Thanks to her staunch conservative views, Ms Palin remains a highly divisive figure with high negative ratings. Many Republican strategists think her selection as nominee would almost guarantee Mr Obama a second term.
But such is her popularity among the grassroots of the party, few in Washington are prepared to stick their head above the parapet.
No major figure in the party has yet to come out in support of Ms Palin, including Mr McCain, who refused to endorse her yesterday.
Mr Rove's forceful comments signalled his confidence in his own standing and track record as the architect of Mr Bush's two election victories.
She could face further attacks from within the party's hierarchy in the coming months as the competition for the nomination heats up.
All indications are that she will run for office. She has delivered a speech in Iowa, where the first caucuses are held, quietly accumulated members of staff and has a sizeable pot of money.
But Mr Rove suggested that most Republican primary voters were still watching the race and would choose the candidate most suitable for the role.
"They are going to be saying 'the person who can win is the person who proves to me that they are up to the job'," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)