THE GENDER CARD…. Over the last five days, you may have noticed that Sarah Palin’s record has been subjected to some scrutiny. The only obviously sexist remarks I’ve noticed have come from leading far-right personalities, including Pat Buchanan calling Palin “hot,” and Rush Limbaugh touting her as a “babe.”

But yesterday was the first day Republicans began a coordinated effort to push back against the criticism, arguing, rather shamelessly, that anyone who questions Palin’s qualifications for national office is necessarily engaging in sexism. Carly Fiornia got the ball rolling, telling reporters:

“Because of Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the Presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Governor Palin.”

She didn’t cite any examples. Simultaneously, McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer blasted Palin-related criticism as “chauvinism,” a point that Lindsey Graham was all too happy to echo.

Welcome to Republican Feminism in the 21st century.

This is politics at its most insipid, and while I’m confident Republicans are well past the point of shame, now would be a very good time for some. Their arguments have a certain child-like quality — if you question the credibility and qualifications of a woman candidate, you must be some kind of misogynist. One assumes that if Democrats had taken a similar attitude — any and all criticism of Barack Obama necessarily constitutes racism — the reaction would have been apoplectic.

Ironically, when Hillary Clinton noted the sexism she experienced as a candidate, it was none other than Sarah Palin who accused her of “whining.” And yet, he we are, with leading Republicans equating legitimate criticism with sexism, as if this tack had some legitimacy.

Did it not occur to Republicans that Palin’s detractors may have sincere concerns about her credibility problems, her controversial past, her extremist beliefs, and her unimpressive record? Well, sure it did, but Republicans hope to scare Palin’s critics into submission anyway.

As Jonathan Martin concluded, “All that complaining over the years by Republicans about identity politics and political correctness? Yeah, never mind. They now have a chance to score some political points, so they’re engaging in such posturing full-tilt.”

Even by Republican standards, this is just sad.

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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.