Updated 6:24 p.m. Eastern Time
Last night, Politico posted an anonymously-sourced story reporting that advisers to top potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates are united in their desire to stop Sarah Palin from winning the presidential nomination out of a fear that she would lose badly in the general election.
"There is a determined, focused establishment effort ... to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin," someone described as a "prominent and longtime Washington Republican" told Politico. "We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her."
Palin quickly responded to the story on Fox News' "On the Record" last night, criticizing the use of anonymous sources and stating, "The paper that we just printed this article on was not worth even wrapping my king salmon in."
"This is a joke to have unnamed sources tearing somebody apart limb by limb," said Palin.
She also lit into those quoted, telling Greta Van Susteren they "want to lead the nation and run the world" and yet "they're not brave enough to put their name in an article." She called them "the GOP the establishment -- the self-proclaimed elite" and added that "if they would man up and if they would, you know, make these claims against me, then I can debate them."
UPDATE: Palin has now sarcastically referred to Politico and other detractors "puppy-kicking, chain-smoking porn producers" in an email to the Daily Caller.
She reportedly wrote: "I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers...really, they are... I've seen it myself...but I'll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these 'facts' to an 'anonymous source' and I'll give you more."
The Politico story focuses on what has become obvious to many in Washington: The fact that while Palin is an undisputed superstar on the right who can drum up significant enthusiasm among her base, she represents a significant risk as a general election candidate. A CBS Newslast month found that Palin is viewed unfavorably by nearly 50 percent of Americans, and favorably by just 22 percent.
Last week, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rovethe UK's Daily Telegraph Palin may lack the "gravitas" to become president.
In his widely-read "Playbook" e-mail this morning, one of the authors of the Politico story, Mike Allen, wrote that, "We didn't even set out to write this. But it came up so often that we had to: It was the worst-kept secret in D.C.!" Allen and co-author Jim VandeHei were called "jokes" by Palin for writing the article.
There is a good reason why no Republican wants to be quoted criticizing Palin: She has shown herself to be adept at painting her opponents as just the sort of Washington insiders who have fallen so out of fashion with the GOP base. No potential 2012 contender wants to be set up as the establishment alternative to the former Alaska governor.
Some are already distancing themselves from the sentiments in the story. Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News today that Republicans should not be attacking each other and that Republican voters - not "so-called leaders" - should decide who should be the nominee. Palin, he said, should get the chance "to make her case and let the Republican Party decide." The "so-called leaders" quoted in the story, he added, "are missing the whole point" of what the current election cycle says about voters' moods. He called on the Republican National Committee to discipline Republicans who criticize each other.
Still, there are signs that the "top advisers to the candidates most frequently mentioned as running in 2012 and a diverse assortment of other top GOP officials" who were interviewed for the story have reason to be worried.
Look at the Senate race in Delaware, where the Palin-endorsed Christine O'Donnell's upset victory over Rep. Mike Castle in the GOP primary turned a likely GOP pickup into what looks like an easy Democratic victory. While O'Donnell's appeal won over enough primary voters to get her to the general election, that has seemingly not translated to the overall electorate.
The Palin-aligned website Conservatives4Palin is using the Politico story for fundraising, as well as for the opportunity to cast what it calls the GOP establishment as an all-boys club.
"The GOP Establishment deems that nominating Governor Palin in 2012 would spell disaster," writes Whitney Pitcher. "However, for whom would a Palin nomination be a disaster? The GOP Establishment? One of the GOP boys: Romney, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Thune, Barbour, Daniels?"
"If Governor Palin were to win the GOP nomination, the Establishment dies," adds Pitcher.
One Republican leader told Politico that party leaders hoped that a strengthened Republican National Committee could be used to hobble Palin. Yet the Republican Party has become increasingly decentralized in the 2010 election cycle, thanks in part to the rising influence of outside groups and the Tea Party movement, raising questions about how much influence the RNC will ultimately have on the nomination.
Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.