But for Larison to sugeest that for Palin to keep in the good graces of her base, she has to back the more conservative candidate in every single race, no matter what other circumstances are in play, is totally ludicrous. ~Philip Klein

Had I said that, Klein might have a point, but I clearly didn’t. I’m not talking about Palin siding with the conservative in “every single race, no matter what other circumstances are in play,” but I am definitely talking about this Arizona Senate primary and the Palinite loathing of McCain. Rank-and-file conservatives dislike McCain as much for how he disrespects them as for his actual policy record, and it is especially the Palin loyalists who believe that it was McCain’s people who sabotaged Palin and sought to blame her for the failings of the campaign. In the Palinite story of her “persecution,” McCain and his staffers are seen as treacherous and untrustworthy.

It is easy to underestimate the significance of McCain’s record on immigration when considering how much rank-and-file conservatives in Arizona loathe him. Remember that his advocacy for immigration legislation nearly destroyed his candidacy on a national level. It was only after he gave up on talking about immigration during the campaign that he was able to revive his political hopes. There is a large bloc of Republican primary voters in Arizona who regard immigration as one of the most important issues, and they rightly regard McCain as one of the leading Republicans on the wrong side of the issue. That is why endorsing McCain would be very different from endorsing, say, Mark Kirk in Illinois, who has already been actively seeking her endorsement. Kirk may be a moderate, but for most people his name doesn’t mean anything and he hasn’t gone out of his way to aggravate and insult conservatives. Palin could endorse moderate candidates in blue states such as Kirk to her heart’s content, and her supporters probably wouldn’t think twice about it, but to support McCain for re-election to what has been a safe Republican seat would be more of a pragmatic compromise than a lot of them would be willing to tolerate. That doesn’t mean that she has to back Hayworth.

Klein may be right that Palinites are such cultists devoted to the person of Sarah Palin rather than to any discernible set of beliefs, in which case the Palin phenomenon is even more devoid of substance than anyone thought. On the assumption that her supporters actually object to “moderate” Republicanism for some coherent and intelligible reason, Palin will do herself great harm if she backs McCain.