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Palin puts her hand on the scale

Such is the state of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign that the widely discredited vice-presidential loser of seven years ago has burst into the headlines again with a major political coup.

Sarah Palin's appearances at a couple of Donald Trump rallies in Oklahoma are reported as a matter of great significance, despite the almost incomprehensible remarks she made with the beaming candidate at her side.

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Mr. Trump even tells NBC News he hasn't discussed the possibility of making her his running mate, "but she's somebody I really like and I respect, and certainly she could play a position if she wanted to."

Not even Donald Trump at his most outrageous would be so reckless as to make the same mistake John McCain made in 2008 by choosing Ms. Palin to run with him. Her attention span for serious governing was such that she subsequently quit as governor of Alaska for the allure of television lights, and she has been on the celebrity circuit ever since.

Ms. Palin, who should be eternally grateful to Mr. McCain for having plucked her from political obscurity and placed her in what passes these days as stardom, has thus repaid Mr. Trump for castigating the Vietnam hero as a mere war captive. It's said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but this is ridiculous.

The notion that the Sarah Palin "get" is a kind of coup for Mr. Trump and a setback for Sen. Ted Cruz only underscores the pathetic depths to which this campaign has sunk, with the election year only barely begun. Will Mr. Cruz now even the score by bagging the endorsement of Dan Quayle, who at least was a real vice president for four years?

What might ordinarily make the fact that a past vice presidential nominee has chosen Mr. Trump over Mr. Cruz noteworthy is the fact that the office has never been more worthy of esteem and respect than it is today.

In almost every instance since the incumbency of Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter's standby, the vice presidency has been filled by someone who served with influence and distinction, thanks to the presidents who utilized them generously and effectively.

The surfacing of Sarah Palin in 2008 was a Hail Mary pass by the desperate McCain campaign trying to salvage a staggering effort. Her performance on the stump, though temporarily entertaining and amusing, only resurrected many of the old and cruel jokes about vice presidents and veep candidates as bumblers and nonentities.

The main beef about most former vice presidents over the years was that they had nothing much of importance to do, and that the office itself, in John Nance Garner's sanitized words, was not "worth as bucket of warm spit."

But the arrival of Sarah Palin brought a rather harsher sentiment to many minds: that it was a crassly disposable vehicle that could just be tossed into the election year's poker pot or crap game as an act of desperation. She became a national laughingstock among all but her more gullible and worshipful followers.

In terms of making herself a public figure in the worlds of politics and celebrity, it can't be denied that Ms. Palin continues to pull off a remarkable job of self-promotion, long after her first run as a conservative icon in the presidential campaign of 2008.

Her brief appearance in the spotlight of the 2016 Republican campaign is, however, only another commentary on how frivolous and demeaning the whole enterprise has become, rather than the serious national exercise in self-governing it should be.

The Trump vs. Cruz imbroglio, which started in a mild and gentlemanly manner, has now descended into an old-fashioned wrestling match with Palin as an attractive ornament in the ring, leaving the referee to watch for the eye-gouging.

Thus does the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and the Bushes distinguish itself in the era of the new take-no-prisoners conservatism. As for what it will mean for the party when it's all over, only the most optimistic Republicans can dare to hope for a remotely sane outcome.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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