Palin’s blatant lack of competence and preparedness needs no belaboring. What’s critical is that substantive, serious Republican leaders either wouldn’t or couldn’t declare, before or after the election: “This is not what our party stands for. We can and must do better.”

By the campaign’s end, GOP operatives were shielding Palin from even the simplest questions. (She had flunked “what newspapers do you read?”). Barack Obama cruised to victory.

Palin became a Fox News fixture, reinforcing the newly formed tea party’s “never compromise” demands. Bombast, not reason, reigned. Now the “settle for flash” aura of Palin’s candidacy looks like a warning that the party was prizing glib, red-meat rhetoric over reasoned solutions.

Sadly, Palin owes her fame to 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, who is generally one of the party’s more thoughtful and substantive veterans. He has championed reforms to immigration and campaign finance. He denounced “wacko birds” who stymie Congress to pursue hard-right agendas with no chance of passage. Whether McCain actively sought Palin in 2008 or passively yielded to aides’ pressure, he set a new standard for GOP candidates who rely on lots of sizzle and little substance.