I have a project for you all. Take one of those magnetic refrigerator poetry kits, open it up, and dump it on the floor. Then throw a few randomly selected Scrabble tiles into the mix. Write every political cliché you can think of in a notebook, throw the notebook into a wood chipper, and aim the verbal confetti blizzard at the incoherent pile of words and random syllables you've amassed. Stir it all together and voila – you’ve re-created the transcript of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump.
The former Republican VP nominee, half-term Alaska governor, and twice-fired Fox News jabberer lent her support to the Trump 2016 cause Tuesday with a speech that was quintessentially Palinesque. It was loaded up with gibberish (“he’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system”), festooned with raw appeals to cultural resentment (“right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our god, and our religions, and our Constitution”), ornamented with the greatest hits from the Palin glory days (“it’s time to drill, baby, drill down, and hold these folks accountable”), and pockmarked with political references that have long-since passed their sell-by date (“yes, Barack, he built that”).
Palin and Trump are an easy match politically – they prioritize appeals to emotion and identity over policy rigor and knowing what the hell you’re talking about – so her endorsement of the Republican frontrunner makes at least some sense. She doesn’t have anywhere near the clout she used to as a political figure, and endorsements are generally overrated as political commodities, so it’s tough to say what impact, if any, her approval will have on the Trump’s campaign. But her endorsement stands out as a wonderful indictment of the party that elevated her to celebrity status to begin with.
It’s easy to forget just how big a deal Sarah Palin once was in Republican Party politics. She was plucked from obscurity and, with the help and encouragement of some high-powered conservative pundits, installed as John McCain’s 2008 running mate. She was supposed to be the McCain campaign’s salvation, the secret weapon that would enable the crotchety Washington veteran to beat the odds and take down the charismatic young black guy who was cruising in the polls. Then she interviewed with Katie Couric and the economy collapsed into itself, and that was it for the Palin rescue mission.
But she was viewed by conservatives and a good number of Republicans as the one bright spot of 2008 – a young, charismatic, female governor who had reinvigorated the party. A cult of personality sprung up around Palin that proved to be surprisingly durable. When she abruptly resigned as governor to become a cable news pundit, conservatives defended her and called it a savvy career move. When she conjured the irresponsible and dangerous myth of the Affordable Care Act’s “death panels,” conservatives painfully contorted themselves to argue that she was completely right. She perfectly captured the mounting feeling of conservative victimization in the Obama era.
The last four or five years have been marked by a steady decline in her stature as her shtick as worn thin and she’s had to resort to more and more inflammatory gestures to keep her name in the headlines – “blood libel,” comparing Barack Obama to a spousal abuser, saying the first black president wants to go back to the days of slavery, etc. Her favorability ratings cratered and she lost her perch at Fox News. The bottom seemed to fall out last January at the Iowa Freedom Summit, where she gave a sprawling and incoherent ramble of a speech that left conservatives cold as they realized that all Palin has to offer is well-worn grievances from past election cycles.
Her endorsement of Trump got her name back in the headlines as she tried to reinvigorate her own flagging brand by leeching off Trump’s burgeoning political celebrity. And it’s being viewed by prominent conservatives and Republicans as a betrayal of the movement that made her the star that she was. The National Review, whose editor once marveled at the “starbursts” Palin’s winking sent through his TV screen, called Palin’s Trump endorsement “the inevitable and rational confluence of two ghastly cults of personality.” Glenn Beck, who once told Palin that she “is one of the only people that I can see that can possibly lead us out of where we are,” wrote Tuesday after the Trump endorsement: “Maybe the press was right about her but for all the wrong reasons.”
Well guys, to borrow from Palin’s repertoire of stale political zingers: you built that.