Not incidentally, all of this is helping push the conservative base further to the fringe of American politics, and almost certainly damaging the Republican Party. But if you think that bothers the right-wing merchants, you’ve got it backward. If anything, they are incentivized to help the GOP lose: Democrats in power give them a foe to rally the ideologues against (and a growing pool of disaffected Americans if the economy, or anything else, goes badly). The ascension of Obama and the Democrats was a financial godsend that repowered the gravy train — it was the best thing to happen to them since the Clinton era, when conservative talk-radio listenership tripled, and much of this industry was born.

So are these organizations run by true believers, or cynical parasites? That’s ultimately a moot point. It’s like asking whether fast-food CEOs eat their companies’ food, or if tobacco executives smoke. In a consumer market, the consumer will get what they want from someone, whether it’s chicken nuggets, Marlboros, or the most reactionary, extremist fear-mongering.

“If you want to do well in that marketplace, they expect red meat,” says Zelizer, speaking of the conservative customer base. “They don’t want moderates — that’s not what sells.”

Palin is red meat, atop red Naughty Monkey heels. She will sell.