I have been re-reading "Trail Fever," Michael Lewis' insightful look at the 1996 presidential campaign in which Sen. Bob Dole fell way short against Bill Clinton.

What intrigues me was that back then, there was a Tea Party too, and they annoyed the hell out of Dole.

Their hero then was Pat Buchanan, and it was called the Taxpayer's Party, but it reads like a script from today's Tea Party folks.

Back then they were energized by the same things, and when Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary, they were off to the races.

Of course, Buchanan foundered and, despite vague promises, never joined up with the Taxpayer's Party.

Some things never grow old, and Irish American Sarah Palin is this year's Pat Buchanan in the same way that the Taxpayer's Party is the equivalent of the Tea Party.

But Palin is a much more significant figure than Buchanan was, and we pundits ignore her at our peril.

Back then, Buchanan had no idea of the grassroots fervor he was inciting, but Sarah Palin knows exactly what she is doing.

She will be a kingmaker in many key congressional races. Her support for John McCain will allow him to win in Arizona. Her opposition to some establishment Republican candidates will cause knees to shake wherever she decide to campaign.

Pailin has a lot of IOUs after the 2010 political season, and may well be in a position to cash in in 2012.

No I don't think she will run for President, especially not after signing up for a reality show about her life in Alaska, but she will be the kingmaker. Mark my words.

Those who were hoping she would have a brief 15 minutes of fame and disappear can forget about it. She is here to stay and has shown remarkable staying power.

The road to the Republican nomination will run through Sarah Palin's patch in 2012 -- and she will use her grassroots power to decide who will be best for the nascent Tea Party movement.

Unlike the Taxpayer's Party that made it up as they went along, the Tea Party folks are smart enough and visible enough, thanks to Glenn Beck, to stay the course. And Palin will be their champion.

She will be the most-powerful voice in the 2012 nomination battle within the Republican Party.