Sarah Palin should have run up the white flag of surrender and kept the clothes. They were gorgeous, and there really was no reason to give up the $150,000 wardrobe unless she planned to run again under the Wal-Mart Mom persona. Surely she knows that's over.
Many Republicans were understandably irked by this use of their campaign contributions. For others, the only complaint was the hypocrisy factor -- the "anti-elitist" cleaning out the designer racks at Saks and Neiman Marcus.
Far more problematical were the personal expenses Palin charged to Alaska taxpayers. A standout example was the four glamorous nights she and her daughter spent at a $707-a-day New York hotel -- all justified by the governor's attendance at a five-hour conference. We all know the angst of seeing state officials living high on the public hog.
For many of us, the night terror of Palin being second in line to become president is gone. We can think straight again. And so can Republican leaders.
Nearly all the Sunday talk show hosts asked their Republican guests a what-was-the-party-thinking question on the pick of Palin as vice presidential candidate. They gallantly withheld overt criticism but offered enough faint praise to sink any of her lingering ambitions for 2012.
So what is next for Palin? She's clearly got native smarts, but not the intellectual heft required to hold high office.
The depth of that deficit became clear in the "reports" of a John McCain adviser complaining that she didn't know Africa was a continent. Though obviously no Palin fan, even I question such an extraordinary charge, especially attached to unnamed sources.
Whether or not the story is true -- and Palin says it is not -- the takeaway point is this: So low is confidence in Palin's knowledge base that huge audiences are ready to believe that she didn't know Africa was a continent. Not-so-liberal Fox News stands by its the story.
The sands of the egg timer seem to be running out on Palin's moment as a serious national political figure. Even in Alaska, the stars no longer line up in her favor.
Palin returns home at a time when falling oil prices have crimped any petro-state executive's ability to spread the wealth and take credit for it. She and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have that in common.
Her divisive remarks during the campaign caused Democrats in Anchorage to doubt the sincerity of her seeming bipartisan approach to governing. They will be less docile. Face it: Palin has a snowball's chance in Hawaii of recouping her formerly high approval ratings in Alaska
Her hope of staying in the big game was to become a U.S. senator. The preferred path would have been through Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens' downfall. Recently convicted of seven felonies, Stevens was to win re-election, then get thrown out of the Senate. Palin would call a special election to fill his seat and run in it. That was the plan, which has since gone awry. The vote count continues, but Stevens' defeat at the hands of his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, now appears likely.
While Palin's political prospects seem increasingly constrained, she has a cloudless future as an incendiary TV talk show host. She's got it all: looks, charisma, a sharp speaking style and an impassioned following.
For all her bashing of the East Coast and the media, Palin clearly loves being there and talking to them. Good use for a $5,000 Valentino jacket, alas.