Credit Republican strategist Steve Schmidt with the idea

Credit Republican strategist Steve Schmidt with the idea. Discussing Herman Cain’s faltering candidacy on MSNBC — before the “Cain train” officially screeched to a halt — he suggested the presidential hopeful’s next logical destination was “Dancing With the Stars.”

Only one current GOP contender can ultimately land the party’s nomination, and many will no doubt retreat to the customary holding pen for conservative politicians, segueing directly into paid talking-head gigs on Fox News Channel.

But why aim so low? As two disgraced former pols, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, demonstrated with their respective stints on “Dancing” and “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Sarah Palin proved with her TLC show, unscripted TV’s appetite for the famous and notorious has become nearly inexhaustible.

Given that, it’s just a matter of hooking up “talent” with the series or network that suits them.

However unseemly this might appear — especially to political veterans — most of these candidates aren’t really campaigning to lead the free world. They’re auditioning for a range of media options that have exploded since Bill Clinton played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall’s show.

Plus, the spectacle of Donald Trump flirting with a presidential run before choosing to continue with his NBC show, “The Apprentice” — but only after insisting he could win the nomination had he sought it — has further blurred the lines. Throw in plans for Trump to moderate an upcoming debate, and the GOP primaries have officially moved into “The Onion must be writing this” phase. (To their credit, candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman said enough’s enough — and now Mitt Romney has announced he also won’t attend — but those deriding the Trump publicity stunt sound shocked, shocked to discover entertainment has permeated the race.)

Based on Newt Gingrich’s recent criticism of child-labor laws, CBS (or if not them, Cartoon Network) ought to bring back the controversial series “Kid Nation” with Gingrich as host, trying to teach children the value of doing jobs normally associated with adults.

As for the rest of the field, Huntsman and Rick Santorum — who have barely registered in the polls — seem perfect for a revival of “What’s My Line?” or CBS’ celebrity look-alike specials “I Get That A Lot.”

Finally, oddsmakers still think Romney remains most likely to secure the nomination, but if for some reason he doesn’t, here’s a guy who’s by now well-known, with solid business credentials and a frequently-referenced head of hair.

So watch your back, Donald. Because if you persist in mouthing off about NBC, the network just might have an alternative candidate to host “The Apprentice” — one accustomed to being cast as the second choice.

In terms of political-TV matchmaking, programs like “Dancing With the Stars” and “Celebrity Apprentice” — which their strong preference for attention-getting casting — are almost too easy. The real creativity comes in placing the GOP hopefuls in appropriate venues beyond reality TV’s usual suspects. (Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t run, for example, but given their struggles with weight, would be naturals for “The Biggest Loser.”)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with his poor debate performances, would certainly turn heads as a contestant on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?,” playing for the charity — or wealthy political donors — of his choice.

Cain has no shortage of options, and his reputed business acumen would lead him toward Trump’s showcase. Still, based on his recent travails and questions about his truthfulness, an encore version of Fox’s lie-detector show “The Moment of Truth” sounds even more promising.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, could be the latest cranky old guy to enliven “Survivor,” where his faith in libertarian values and rugged individualism could readily be put to the test.

Although she’ll remain in Congress even after a failed presidential bid, Michele Bachmann and husband Marcus would be ideal candidates for “Celebrity Wife Swap” — pair them up with a liberal couple, or a gay one — as well as their own series. Having raised 23 foster children in addition to five of their own, one can see TLC bringing everyone together for “Michele & Marcus Plus 28″ — an everyone-under-one-roof exercise, or even a fun-loving elimination game.

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