Okay, so Sarah Palin didn’t have such a good night on Tuesday. Her candidate Sarah Steelman lost the Missouri GOP primary to Rep. Todd Akin. In that evangelical-heavy state, it turns out, Palin’s endorsement was trumped by that of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

All in all, however, I would argue that Palin is having a pretty good season. She has shown a knack for the long shot, as she did in Nebraska with her late and important endorsement of state Sen. Deb Fischer in that state’s Senate primary. She also gave crucial air cover to the establishment — and caught some flack from her own most ardent supporters — with her pick of Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah.

In both cases, she took a considerable risk to her brand and came out a winner.

Stories lately tend to refer to Fischer as a tea party candidate, for instance. But in fact, Fischer was the only one of the top three contenders who enjoyed no support from tea party organizations. And Nebraska has never elected a woman to a full term in the Senate. So Palin’s decision to support her was not a case of see which direction things were going and getting on board, or of playing to your base.

What remains a mystery is how Palin goes about picking where and when to make her moves. “I’ve never spoken to her,” Fischer told me a few weeks back. Indeed, the only contact she had, Fischer said, was a brief conversation with Todd, the former Alaska governor’s husband.

Though Sarah Palin will be missing from the speaker’s podium at the Republican convention — which, of course, was the first look that most of the nation got at her four years ago — she retains her gravitational pull in conservative politics. Even Dick Cheney was compelled to walk back his dismissive comments about her selection for McCain’s ticket — perhaps because they hadn’t set well with his own daughter, Liz.

What I think Palin recognizes is that hers is a party that is still sorting out its own identity — and for the foreseeable future, that is an identity that will continue to bear Sarah Palin’s stamp.