Oh my, it looks like Sarah Palin might not be speaking at this year’s Republican National Convention.

Either that, or she will be the keynoter.

The party’s most recent vice-presidential nominee is now officially at war with Mitt Romney and Republican establishment figures—epic losers like Bob Dole and John McCain, epic spinners like Peggy Noonan and Ann Coulter—who have rallied to save the campaign of the fumbling frontrunner.

The former governor of Alaska has for days been doing everything in her power to aid the campaign of Romney’s chief challenger, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Palin’s petty sniping has proven insufficient to derail Romney. So, now, she has dropped the rhetorical equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the GOP’s political and pundit powerbrokers, dismissing them as “Stalinists” and acolytes of the one figure more reviled by conservative base draggers than former Soviet strongmen: anti-poverty campaigner Saul Alinsky.

Palin has now given a sort-of endorsement to Gingrich, telling Fox News: “if for no other reason to rage against the machine vote for Newt, annoy a liberal. Vote Newt. Keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going.”

But, despite the silly “annoy a liberal” line, the machine Palin is raging against is the Republican establishment.

“We have witnessed something very disturbing this week,” Palin writes in a broadly circulated Facebook post. “The Republican establishment which fought Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and which continues to fight the grassroots Tea Party movement today has adopted the tactics of the left in using the media and the politics of personal destruction to attack an opponent.”

Palin savages Romney as “a candidate who admitted to not even supporting or voting for Reagan. He actually was against the Reagan movement, donated to liberal candidates, and said he didn’t want to go back to the Reagan days.”

Palin hails Gingrich as the candidate who “brought the Reagan Revolution into the 1990s.”

But Palin reserves her real fire for Republican insiders who have attacked Gingrich as somehow out-of-synch with the Reagan legacy:

“We know it because none other than Nancy Reagan herself announced this when she presented Newt with an award, telling us, “The dramatic movement of 1995 is an outgrowth of a much earlier crusade that goes back half a century. Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie, and in turn Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that dream alive.” As Rush and others pointed out, if Nancy Reagan had ever thought that Newt was in any way an opponent of her beloved husband, she would never have even appeared on a stage with him, let alone presented him with an award and said such kind things about him. Nor would Reagan’s son, Michael Reagan, have chosen to endorse Newt in this primary race. There are no two greater keepers of the Reagan legacy than Nancy and Michael Reagan. What we saw with this ridiculous opposition dump on Newt was nothing short of Stalin-esque rewriting of history. It was Alinsky tactics at their worst.”

What’s Palin’s play here?

She is not going for a top spot on Mitt Romney’s Christmas-card list.

But she may be going for something bigger.

By positioning herself as the champion of the party’s grassroots in a battle with an aging and out-of-touch establishment, Palin is staking a claim on the party’s heart and soul. It is she, not Gingrich, and certainly not Romney, who may be best placed to come out of a bitter nominating fight as the favorite of the delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa and of Tea Partisans who will need to be energized if Republicans are going to be viable in the fall.

Even as she attacks the likely GOP nominee, Palin makes herself the essential Republican. That translates into talk of her as a convention keynoter, a vice presidential prospect or a Cabinet member in a new GOP administration. Palin would take the keynoter gig, in a heartbeat (high-profile, few risks), but don’t think that she would casually lower herself to accept another second spot on a crashing Republican ticket.

Whatever the specifics, Palin is establishing herself as someone Romney is going to need. Indeed,if the eventual nominee does not bow to the Alaskan’s demands, it will be hard to unite an increasingly factionalized party. So Palin gets the upper hand, even if Gingrich loses.

And if Romney loses in November, well, then it is Palin who will be able to say “I told you so”—as she stokes speculation about a possible 2016 campaign.

—Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising