You know, when a prominent politician holds campaign-type rallies and gives campaign-type speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire in the summer before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the best way to describe such a person is as a candidate for president.

Yes, I’m talking about Sarah Palin.

People get confused about this stuff for two reasons. One is that candidates must eventually comply with various legal and accounting rules if they become formal, official candidates. That’s interesting, but it isn’t what actually separates candidates from non-candidates.

The other is that quite a few people start off running for presidential nominations but don’t make it to Iowa (Tim Pawlenty) or even to the formal candidacy stage (Haley Barbour). Again, however, what happened to those people wasn’t that they were never candidates. They were candidates, and then they chose not to continue on to the next stage, either because they were defeated (most likely) or for some other reason. The other thing that I suppose confuses everyone is the question of motivation. But that can’t be what distinguishes candidates from non-candidates, either. After all, most fringe candidates don’t expect to be elected president of the United States, but we don’t say that a Herman Cain or a Buddy Roemer isn’t a candidate, even if we suspect that the real reason they’re doing it is for the publicity or the money or the status or whatever.

Anyway, whatever the Sage of Wasilla is up to, if she’s acting like a candidate, I think it’s reasonable to treat her as if she’s a candidate. Whatever she winds up doing in a few months. Which doesn’t mean she should necessarily get a lot of attention from the press; that’s going to be based on other things, some pushing for more coverage, some for less. And I do agree that it’s a fair question about whether she’ll wind up contesting the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and the rest of it. But as I see it, she’s been a candidate all along. And, no, it’s not going very well for her if winning the nomination is her goal.