Sarah Palin hasn’t been seriously preparing for a presidential race. She has no ready-made organization. Her “don’t tie me down” routine has been going on for some time. Wednesday night all she did was make it official. She was vague but heartfelt as to the reasons for her decision in a letter to her supporters that included these comments:

After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision. When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.

My decision is based upon a review of what common sense Conservatives and Independents have accomplished, especially over the last year. I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation’s governors to Congressional seats and the Presidency. We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the “fundamental transformation” of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based on the rule of law.

It’s been obvious for some time now that a presidential run would put a crimp her financial empire and subject her to the sort of day-to-day scrutiny that she takes so personally. She’s seen much better-prepared candidates falter. Why risk her reputation and her livelihood by finishing in the middle of the pack in Iowa or near the bottom in New Hampshire?

It’s not clear how influential Palin will remain in the Republican Party or the conservative movement more generally. So long as she raises money and draws crowds, she will be a presence. But one senses her moment has long passed. The party will pick its nominee, and he will be the focus of the media’s attention. He will define the party’s vision and set its tone.

But the GOP and the conservative movement owe Palin a large debt of gratitude on one count. At a time when she could have taken a populist movement outside the GOP, she kept it in the fold. In doing so she helped revive the GOP and brought the Tea Party ethos into elected office. That’s no small thing.