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Would Palin and Trump make 2016 race 'a reality show'? Is Bill O'Reilly right?

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(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(Read caption) Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the Freedom Summit, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Is the 2016 GOP field already shaping up to be a sideshow? And if so, is that bad for America?

Bill O'Reilly made headlines Tuesday when he suggested that Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Chris Christie were not serious candidates in the 2016 presidential race.

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“Wow, talk about a reality show,” the Fox News host said, smirking. 

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Speaking about former Gov. Palin and Mr. Trump, Mr. O'Reilly later said they would "certainly liven up the proceedings but they need effective organizations in 50 states and that’ll be a major challenge for them."

It's not clear why O'Reilly is lumping N.J. Gov. Chris Christie in with Palin and Trump. Most political watchers would argue that he is a serious contender. 

It didn't take long for Palin – who seems to both attract and gravitate toward controversy – to strike back at her Fox News colleague, and call Fox News "quasi-right" in the process.

O'Reilly made his comments during his 8 p.m. show. Palin responded two hours later on Fox News host Sean Hannity's 10 p.m. show.

She said that conservatives should rally around any candidate considering a bid for the Republican nomination.

“Knowing what the media is going to do, it’s going to take more than a village to beat Hillary (Clinton),” she said. “There needs to be unity, understanding that conservatives have that strike against us right off the bat — that being the media.”

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That's when she called the conservative news outlet "quasi-conservative."

“Even there on Fox, kind of a quasi- or assumed conservative outlet,” Palin said, “we have all day listening to the tease with Bill O’Reilly’s, he’s talking about the guests on his show tonight, or the commentary on his show, and that would be, ‘Oh, all these GOP contenders thinking about running like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin,’ and he names them off – he says, ‘Oh, what a reality show that would be, yuck-yuck.’”

"The left,” she continued, doesn’t marginalize its own possible candidates. “They take this serious, because this is war..."

Let's set aside for a moment Palin's concerns about Fox News conservative credentials. 

Perhaps more telling is that Palin may have revealed an emerging collective conservatives anxiety about a very important race for which they are currently less prepared, or at least less unified, than Democrats appear to be.

"It's going to take more than a village to beat Hillary," Palin said.

And she's probably right. While most Democrats appear ready to rally around the former Secretary of State, Republicans are still looking for their "Hillary." Almost two years ahead of the actual election, and before she has even declared, polls show that Clinton is the clear frontrunner – though a lot can happen between now and Nov. 2016.

While it's not yet clear who will emerge as the Republican front-runner, one thing is clear, O'Reilly is right on this point: They won't get there by turning the race into a reality show.

Remember the 2012 primaries? There was Herman Cain's Declaration of Independence-Constitution gaffe; Rick Perry's famous "oops" moment when he famously forgot one of the government agencies he would eliminate if elected; and Michele Bachmann's seemingly never-ending series of gaffes, including John Wayne, swine flu, and Elvis missteps.

As the GOP "sideshow" was drawing laughs in 2012, President Obama was hard at work crafting his reelection plan and building an organization.

In that sense, when O'Reilly made the "reality show" comment, he wasn't joking – and Republicans may do well to take heed.

And as a side note, it's no wonder Americans' respect for and confidence in government is faltering when political parties narratives' skew more titillating than substantive. A 2014 Gallup poll found confidence in all three branches of government hit record lows this past year.

That's not surprising considering that two of the candidates who have hinted that they are considering a 2016 run - Trump and Palin - have both done actual reality shows.

Perhaps it's time for an Extreme Makeover, GOP edition.