On Monday Donald Trump, front runner in the Republican Primary race, announced that his rally in Ames, Iowa would feature a ‘big announcement’.
The world wondered, ‘what could it be?’. What could possibly match up to previous Trump headliners such as ‘We will build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it’ and ‘Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on.’? The slightly disturbing prospect of America electing a President who talks in third person notwithstanding, the Donald does set a pretty high bar for announcements, so the fact he was previewing this one meant it was bound to be something big, and the Donald, as ever, didn’t fail to exceed expectations.
In the most recent Republican debate Senator Ted Cruz (TX) accused Trump of being beholden to ‘New York values‘, essentially accusing him of being a liberal, which is possibly the highest crime in the GOP. So Trump has been on the attack ever since, decrying Cruz’s record as a Texas State Attorney and as a Senator, claiming that Cruz is widely disliked in Washington (not untrue) and that his being born in Canada will preclude him from becoming President (for those of you not up to date, Trump has previous on this having led the ‘Birther’ movement that claimed Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya). But on Tuesday night, to prove once and for all that he is a true Conservative, Trump pulled out his first major political endorsement in the form America’s favourite political Soccer Mom and former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
And what an endorsement it was. I don’t know if Palin specifically chose to characterise herself as Trump’s knight in shining armour by wearing a bizarre chain-mail style jacket, but it certainly had a slightly mesmerising effect. This is probably fortunate as her nearly 20 minute speech was a rambling, incoherent mess. Mrs Palin will likely not go down in the annals of oratorical history and her speech ranged from the sublimely ridiculous, claiming Trump would ‘stop turning safety nets into hammocks’ and a fun metaphor about politicians addicted to ‘OPM’ (Other People’s Money), getting a high from redistributive economics, to the just plain ridiculous, ‘Slurpin’ off the gravy train‘, ‘Bitter clingin’, proud clingin’ to our guns our God and our Constitution’.
Her speech seemed to be largely be centred around decrying the ‘system’ of the ‘Permanent Political Class’ and claiming that the establishment (presumably including Cruz) didn’t know a thing about what proper Conservatism is. She invoked Reagan by casting The Donald – who spent the entirety of the speech stood slightly to one side making a variety of faces ranging from approving to slightly confounded – as if he hadn’t realised or had forgotten quite how mental Sarah Palin actually is, as The Gipper’s heir apparent. Her endorsement of Trump as a leader seemed to be based on his business acumen, ‘he knows to keep the main thing the main thing’ (This great insight made me again wonder quite why John McCain picked her as his running mate in 2008) and that “he builds big things” (Which I suppose will be useful when that wall needs constructing).
She did move away from tearing down the Washington establishment to cover the big political issue of the day; the rise of ISIS. Obviously, Palin believes (in her impeccable judgement) that The Donald is the right man to ‘kick ISIS ass’, though she did appear to base this judgement on the fact Trump used to fire people on a reality television show (I’ve never watched the US Apprentice, but I might if one of the challenges is to wage a global jihad). She also endorsed the position of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (who is also running for President, making one wonder if Palin thought she was at a different rally) as regards to America becoming involved in Middle Eastern conflict:
Where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allah Akbar’ calling Jihad’s on each other’s heads for ever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.
This may be the first time in political discourse that someone has suggested out-sourcing foreign policy to an actual deity, but then Palin has never been one afraid of breaking new ground.
This speech, as confounding as it was, may actually help Trump. Palin may be considered a mostly comic figure on this side of the Atlantic, but in the US she still has major pulling power as a doyenne of the Tea Party movement, and will help Trump secure greater support among GOP evangelicals. The fact that someone who would have been considered a natural bedfellow of Ted Cruz (not a mental image I particularly wish to dwell on) has come out for Trump shows just how entrenched he is as leader of this race.
The primary season has been slightly transformative for Trump, he is definitely a far sharper political operator than at the beginning of the campaign, which may be why his anti-establishment charm has lasted while the likes of Ben Carson and Rand Paul have seen their poll numbers collapse, and maneuvering himself to undercut Cruz’s evangelical conservatism by getting Palin onside could be the move that pushes him over the line. Palin is pretty toxic nationally, so will likely be little use if he does get the nomination, but for one night she returned to the public spotlight, in all her glorious ineptitude, and may have just secured The Donald’s stranglehold on this race.