I have no idea whether palin is aware of the extent to which she is being used or even if she knows she is being used.
I suspect that Palin and various operatives and factions in the Republican party are mutually using each other, and both sides know it. Her various Tweets and Facebook pronouncements are likely fed to her by specific Republican/Conservative strategists, who she may actually be paying for this service. But these comments, like the "death panel" remark, for instance, garner her a great deal of media attention, and, at the moment, her livelihood depends on keeping herself in the media spotlight. Palin is not coming up with any ideas all on her own--she never has.
The Republicans have no one else who grabs media attention and excites crowds quite the way Palin does. There is no doubt she presents problems for them--she is not a viable presidential candidate for 2012, and her Tea Party activism might help to inspire third party candidates in November of this year, which could help to defeat Republicans. But the other possibilities the Republicans could shove into the spotlight are either unknown to the general public, or just plain unexciting. So, it's to their advantage to let Sarah present their basic talking points because the media will cover her. Her constant jabs at Obama are good for all the Republican candidates. And, she helps to keep the right wing conservative base interested and connected to the Republican party. She's also a good fund raiser. She really doesn't present policy initiatives, or any platform of her own, that's way over her head, so she's not personally competing with any potential Republican candidates for 2012--she is not acting like a candidate. Her main function, for the Republicans, is to keep segments of the Republican party energized, and to draw crowds and media attention when she speaks. And her personal needs, to stay in the spotlight and make as much money as possible, are satisfied by this mutually exploitive relationship.
So, I think it's a win-win situation for Sarah and the Republicans (and the Tea Partiers) to use each other, as long as she does not become a liability for the Republicans or the TP. Some of her recent remarks and Facebook postings did use violent language and imagery directed toward Democrats, which she later tried to deny and rationalize. But that sort of thing, causes the Republicans to back off and try to distance themselves from her. Should Levi Johnston begin shooting his mouth off again about Palin, and just cause too much family dirty laundry to be aired in public, the Republican establishment will back off from her. There is a lot of buzz about how Sarah Pac misuses funds, and if an ethical/financial scandal erupts about that, she will become damaged goods for the Republicans. Her penchant for lying will also come back to haunt her if she ever makes moves toward a candidacy for high office.
But, at the moment, Sarah is a boon for the Republicans--even poor John McCain had to use her to draw a crowd for his re-election campaign. They, and the Tea Party, need her because they have no other "star". And the woman is unique. She's exceptionally attractive, she's lively and spunky and quirky--she's basically an entertainer and a political celebrity, and she does those jobs well for the party, and for her bank account.
I don't think the "Wal-mart women" you refer to, plainoldme, who follow and cheer her are being used or duped, and I wouldn't denigrate those women. They identify with her "plain talking", because she uses words they can understand. They identify with her knocking "elitists" because her simplistic thinking contains no difficult to understand concepts or complex ideas--they can follow what she's saying when they listen to her. They can imagine sitting down at a kitchen table and having a cup of coffee with her. They see her as a mom, because she parades her children around and unabashedly uses them when necessary--forget that this woman has not been around to care for those children a lot of the time, and neither has her husband. But these women don't care because Sarah tells them she understands the problems of moms, and they believe her. Sarah is anti-abortion and that's enough for them. Sarah is upbeat about America, and that makes them feel good--forget that she rips the current administration, the ones who are actually running the country, to shreds--she reminds them of Reagan. She waves the flag and always wears her flag pin. She talks about God and faith and they like that too--forget about separation of church and state. Sarah Palin simply makes these women feel good. She does not threaten them in any way, she's comfy and familiar. These same women would probably not admire or like Hillary Clinton--she's not their type.
Of course Sarah looks different than she did in her Miss Wasilla days. Twenty-seven years takes a toll on anyone--and Sarah still does look pretty good. She really is more attractive than Tina Fey, and probably was when they were both 18. I doubt that Tina was ever homely. Sarah probably paid more attention to hair and makeup than Tina did when both were younger. People who enter beauty contests also have to work at looking good and enhancing their natural attractiveness. Sarah's physical gifts have always been a big part of her success--Tina Fey also has considerable talent beyond just looking good and having a lively personality.
So, plainoldme, I think your basic premise that these women are being duped by Sarah is incorrect. They are not being duped. They relate to what they like about her and just ignore the rest. People did that with Bill Clinton too, they liked many things about him and ignored his philandering, which was widely known before Monica ever entered the Oval Office. These women have access to the same info you do about Palin and it just may not matter to them. So, you shouldn't worry about trying to save their souls.