‘A CLOWNISH, VINDICTIVE AMATEUR’…. Reihan Salam, a prominent conservative blogger and Republican strategist, has defended Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) quite a bit over the last several months. He’s promoted her, made excuses for her shortcomings, and tried to convince any who’d listen that she’s really not as awful as she might seem. Up until recently, Salam has argued valiantly that Palin is a credible national figure and a plausible presidential aspirant.

Now, however, Salam has reluctantly given up.

Palin’s campaign antics can be forgiven. What can’t be forgiven is the ham-handed way she’s tried to build her national profile since she returned to Alaska. She’s abandoned the bold right-left populism that won over Alaska voters — and me — in the first place in favor of an increasingly defensive and harsh partisanship. After making her name as a determined enemy of Alaska’s corrupt Republican establishment, she recently called for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich to step down so the hilariously crooked Ted Stevens could get another crack at the seat. She loudly promised to leave federal stimulus money on the table before clawing that promise back with a whimper. One can’t help but get the impression that Palin is a clownish, vindictive amateur.

Now, for example, Palin is raising hackles for naming colorful crackpot Wayne Anthony Ross to be Alaska’s attorney general. It turns out that Palin may have consulted with Ross over a state senate appointment, a move that would have been against state law. As a general matter, state law is something you might want your AG to be on top of.

What I’m wondering is: Has Sarah Palin undergone some kind of secret lobotomy?

Notwithstanding the possibility of secret brain surgery on the governor, Salam is arguably understating the case. As we talked about last week, Palin’s on-the-job performance since last year’s presidential election has been a train-wreck. (It’s apparently getting worse, too, with a new ethics complaint having been filed against her this week.)

What’s curious about all of this is that Palin had a more obvious and productive route, which she’s inexplicably chosen to ignore. As Chris Orr noted the other day, “Perhaps the most mystifying element of Palin’s recent forays into nuttery is that, politically speaking, it would be difficult to come up with stupider way to position herself in the wake of her v.p. run. The base already loves her — the diehard pro-lifers, the hands-off-mine individualists, the anti-elitist brigades, you name ’em. Where she has (deepening) trouble is with everyone else: moderates, socially liberal libertarians, DC-establishment types, and anyone who places a premium on basic competence.”

And yet, Palin has chosen to become an even more rigid ideologue, annoying lawmakers (in both parties) and locking up the support of the GOP’s far-right base that already supported her. Reform-minded Republicans like Salam, meanwhile, are left with the impression that the governor is “a clownish, vindictive amateur,” after hoping against hope that she’d step up as a genuine Republican leader.

There’s simply no logic to this strategy.

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Steve Benen

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.