Memorial Day weekend was slow for news, so Sarah Palin’s bus tour dominated the headlines. She launched a bus tour, and she seems to be driving the media crazy.

Especially the ride she chose.

For sheer mastery of celebrity theater, Sarah Palin cannot be beat.

Ms. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, let the anticipation build for hours on Sunday in the Pentagon’s North Parking Lot, where thousands of bikers (and their rumbling Harleys) had gathered for the annual Rolling Thunder rally ahead of Memorial Day.

This was tailor-made for both supporters and detractors.

Sarah Palin is going rogue again, confounding the press and delighting fans on a family bus tour that could be a prelude to an unconventional White House campaign — or a branding exercise for Palin Inc.

The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has kept reporters scrambling across three states for three days, refusing to publish her schedule while traveling the countryside in a flashy, painted campaign-style bus.

After announcing the tour of East Coast historic sites last week, Team Palin went silent on the itinerary and refused to accommodate press coverage.

Which really provokes them. She controls the message, and she’s not telling them. And they hate it.

“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know” about seeking the presidency, Palin told reporters who caught up with her yesterday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press.

What is evident, say party strategists and political observers, is that Palin, Senator John McCain’s 2008 vice presidential running mate, would be a force if she chose to join the fray and can also shape the contest even from the sidelines.

“If she entered the race, she automatically and immediately shoots to the front of the pack,” because of her fundraising prowess, support among conservatives and Tea Party activists, and media stardom, said Greg Mueller, a Republican strategist and public relations executive.

Big if. But they just don’t know, because she’s not following their rules.

Everything about her “One Nation” bus trip, except the bus, is the antithesis of how most politicians would do what she’s doing. The question is whether she could ever run for president this way.

Palin is partway through her tour of symbolically important historical sites along the East Coast. After a weekend in and around the capital, she stopped at the Gettysburg battlefield and then saw Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

She will get to New Hampshire, whose political significance is well-known, late in the week. But this is not, she has insisted, a political campaign. Still, the trip has renewed speculation that she could be heading in that direction, though no one but Palin and her husband, Todd, may know the real answer.

So while they try to figure this out, they’re not paying as much attention to candidates who really are running campaigns.

Republican candidates who are intensely wooing early-state voters found themselves eclipsed for another day by the former Alaska governor, who repeated Tuesday that she was pondering whether to run. Unlike them, Palin found herself surrounded by reporters and voters, her bus tour bringing her back to the forefront of GOP politics regardless of her ultimate decision.

“Whether she runs or not, Palin needs to stay relevant in order to leverage her celebrity, influence and earning capacity,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican consultant who helped coach Palin when she was preparing for her vice presidential debate with Joe Biden in 2008. “She just proved that she still can generate crowds anytime she wants. Her machine just got oiled and taken out for a test drive.”

As if anyone had a doubt.

At this point I would say, ‘Here’s what I think…’ But I don’t know what I think.

However,

Palin’s fans have no problems with her approach. While her poll numbers have dropped with the electorate at large, she is still popular with many conservatives in the Republican Party and Tea Party movement.

“I’m thinking maybe she just wants to meet regular people who want to come out, and not to have some big speech,” said Julie Monzi of Gettysburg, who was waiting outside Palin’s hotel to see her.

“This way it’s more intimate and more the people who really want to see her,” Monzi said of the bus tour. “She’s wanting to see America, wanting to see our history, and this makes it more personal.”

That’s probably one point of agreement for a lot of different folks. For whatever reason, it’s personal.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....