The fixed smile on Donald Trump's face as Sarah Palin unleashed her free-association, who-knows-what-she'll-say-next harangue endorsing him on Tuesday sent its own message. "How long do I have to stand here?" it seemed to say. But of all the developments in the astonishing Republican presidential contest, this moment told us what we need to know about the state of a once-great political party.
Consider the forces that brought Palin to the national stage in the first place. In 2008, John McCain, running behind Barack Obama in the polls, wanted to shake up the contest by picking a moderate as his running mate. His first choice was Sen. Joe Lieberman, and he also liked former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
But McCain won the nomination against the will of the Republican right as more conservative candidates had fractured their side's vote. "He is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment -- and that distinction is key," said Rush Limbaugh, using language that is now oh-so-familiar. The establishment, Limbaugh charged, had "long sought to rid the party of conservative influence."