Palin’s life experience mattered because it betokened the entry into politics of a new kind of woman — equally into sports, guns, and kids. Palin’s character type eventually appeared to exist everywhere across the vast red swath of the American interior. Conservatives have long understood in what complex way their youthful women could be masculine without losing the femininity. (Tocqueville bemusedly praised American ladies’ “manly virtue.”) The revolution was in a conservative woman mobilizing that naturally grown manner in the arena of national politics.

However you choose to slice and dice gender identities, you must admit that Palin’s success arose from her own — and that losing her appeal in spite of it, much like earning an F in English, took a lot of willpower to pull off…

It’s a question not lost on the Republican elite, which is smart enough to know there is no real reason Palin’s character type can’t be brought into a more establishmentarian alignment. Enter Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst — servicewoman, heartland heroine, and the no-brainer choice to respond to the president’s State of the Union on behalf of the whole Republican Party. Even a pig-castrating farm girl, you see, can find her way into the arms of such king- and queen-makers as Mitt Romney.

To her credit, Ernst possesses far more discipline than Palin, whose taste for guns did not extend into a longing for the military life. But if the whiff of the establishment gets too strong around her, the base will balk — just ask Marco Rubio. And the jilted Palin constituency will be up for grabs again.