Once she was on the ticket, Palin began playing the identity politics game to the hilt. She talked about visiting pro-America (read: white and rural) parts of the country, and at her rallies her supporters let their true, bigoted colors shine through. To his credit, John McCain did not stoop to depicting Barack Obama as un-American or alien, but Sarah Palin did not hesitate. In doing so, she provided an outlet for a right-wing id chomping at the bit to be unleashed. Beneath the claims that Barack Obama is un-American lies a deep-seated and unspoken assumption on the part of many on the Right that people of color can truly never be American.
The Tea Party, the political embodiment of that id, may be less powerful these days, but that's partly because it has stamped mainstream Republicans. Look at Mitt Romney, for instance, who panders to this facile nationalism by reciting words from "America the Beautiful" while claiming that president Obama does not truly love America, and wants to make this country "like Europe." Take Newt Gingrich, who before running for president made ridiculous claims about president Obama being an anti-imperialist radical by osmosis from his father, and being totally oblivious to the fact that he seems to hate imperialism when white people are placed under it (hence his support of the American Revolution), but finds it hunky-dory when Africans are subjugated by whites. Let's also not forget his singling out of black children for mandatory menial labor in their schools in order to "teach them a lesson" (a phrase Newt doesn't use, but a sentiment he more than implies), or his most recent, insulting claim that black people are only pushing the government for food stamps, not jobs. Rick Santorum is in on the game too, obnoxiously saying that he "doesn't want to make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money." (Of course he has tried to deny it, claiming he really said "blah people.") Ron Paul won third place in Iowa even after it was revealed his namesake newsletter used to publish Klan-worthy racist screeds.
It seems that the all of the Republican front runners are playing with the fire of white identity politics, the very thing that put Palin on the map. In fact, we should probably read her current low status not as a negative judgement against her politics, but as evidence that her innovations have been copied by politicians who are more legitimate. In any case, the Republican nominee this time around will not have McCain's scruples when it comes to the "anti-American" argument. I've said it before, I'll say it again: this election will produce propaganda that will make the Willie Horton ad look tame. One could expect nothing else from the party of Palin.