THE ALASKA INDEPENDENCE PARTY…. What may prove to be the single most damaging angle to Sarah Palin’s role on the Republican Party ticket? There are quite a few contenders (ethics scandal, earmarks, inexperience, outside-the-mainstream views), but following up on Hilzoy’s item from last night, Palin’s association with the Alaska Independence Party might be the most politically detrimental.

It’s practically impossible to make a “Country First” argument when your running mate is affiliated with a political party that puts country second.

Officials of the Alaskan Independence Party say that Palin was once so independent, she was once a member of their party, which since the 1970s has been pushing for a legal vote for Alaskans to decide whether or not residents of the 49th state can secede from the United States.

And while McCain’s motto — as seen in a new TV ad — is “Country First,” the AIP’s motto is the exact opposite — “Alaska First — Alaska Always.”

Lynette Clark, the chairman of the AIP, tells ABC News that Palin and her husband Todd were members in 1994, even attending the 1994 statewide convention in Wasilla. Clark was AIP secretary at the time.

“We are a state’s rights party,” Clark — a self-employed goldminer — tells ABC News. The AIP has “a plank that challenges the legality of the Alaskan statehood vote as illegal and in violation of United Nations charter and international law.”

For all the talk about Barack and Michelle Obama’s patriotism, John McCain’s running mate was a member of a political party that liked the idea of seceding from the United States altogether. It’s the kind of idea that would have been more common in the 1850s.

Advocating secession is, practically by definition, un-American. How does the right go after Obama’s patriotism while supporting a ticket with a candidate who joined a secessionist party?

We are, after all, talking about a party founded by a man who said, “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.” The same man, AIP founder Joe Vogler, also said, “[T]he fires of Hell are glaciers compared to my hate for the American government.”

How is this any better than Jeremiah Wright? Why would Sarah Palin voluntarily join this man’s political party?

Complicating matters, Marc Ambinder has a video of an AIP leader explaining that party members “must ‘infiltrate’ — his words — the other two parties and push for the cause of Alaskan independence.”

I suspect McCain and his aides didn’t know about any of this. Indeed, they couldn’t have — they didn’t vet her. But now that this revelation has come to light, what’s the defense?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.