As Rick Perlstein once noted, the modern conservative movement has always been as much about fleecing the rubes as it has been about gaining and wielding power. This is not surprising coming from an ideology that considers wealth to be a sign of divine favor. To conservatives, anything you do to make yourself rich, no matter how underhanded, is morally justified, and that includes defrauding other conservatives.
Until recently, conservatives were able to keep their greed from interfering with their lust for power. There was plenty of money to go around, enough to line their pockets and still win elections. However, the advent of Sarah Palin has introduced a new factor into the equation. Palin has discovered that it is possible to make a very comfortable living by being a presidential contender. Ever since she and her running mate John McCain lost the 2008 presidential race, Palin has been working the marks: writing* books, appearing on Fox News, giving speeches, posting YouTube videos, tweeting, and in every other way possible keeping herself in the public eye as a potential presidential candidate. When she found her job as governor of Alaska cutting in on her campaigning/moneymaking, she resigned without a moment's hesitation. In addition to the benjamins she earns from book royalties, speaker fees, and her salary as a Fox commentator, she also gets a nice chunk of the money that her faithful worshipers donate to her political action committee, SarahPAC.
Sarah Palin is a profession presidential contender.
What's more, it's really easy money. As Palin has demonstrated, all you have to do is make a lot of noise about culture war issues, do some guest spots on Fox News and right-wing radio shows, and start up your own political action committee, and you'll soon be rolling in dough.
The threat to the Republican Party is obvious. Now that Palin has shown that it can be done, there will always be a temptation for other presidential contenders to forego an actual effort to get elected president in favor of just taking the money and running. Worse, now that the niche exists, the Republican presidential race will attract more and more conservatives who have no goal greater than their own enrichment. Do Rand Paul and Ted Cruz really have presidential ambitions, or are they just trying to get in on Palin's racket? By the time 2016 rolls around, will the G.O.P. have any actual presidential candidates running for president, or will they all be Palin wannabees looking to make a quick buck?
*Or at any rate, putting her name on books written by other people.