Sarah Palin stumps with Trump – but does she hold sway?
She is back in the spotlight – but it’s tough to gauge influence of former Tea Party darling
A recurring theme among some Republicans in Iowa, the first state to pick presidential nominees in 11 days’ time, is that they are unsure about the party’s front-runner Donald Trump and his conservative credentials.
This is why Ted Cruz, the anti-establishment senator, is beating Trump in polls in the state. He is considered consistent on conservative values of concern to voters on the right who will have a disproportionate influence in Iowa’s Republican caucuses on February 1st.
By endorsing Trump at a rally in the state on Tuesday, former Alaska governor and Tea Party poster-girl Sarah Palin could boost his chances among sceptical conservatives in that tight race with Cruz.
Palin may have cost the 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain votes among moderates in his party when he picked the then little-known Alaska governor to be his running mate, but she has shown that she still holds sway in local state races, notwithstanding her capacity to drop gaffes and mangle the English language in her bizarre speeches.
Palin has maintained a prominent national profile through book deals, appearances at political conferences and on television, and even through her own reality TV show. In that, she and Trump have much in common – the two political mavericks enjoy grandstanding in public.
Her popularity peaked in the 2010 congressional elections when, in a wave of victories that swept members of the hardline Tea Party faction to power, candidates she endorsed won in 33 of 64 races.
She helped South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, tipped as a possible Republican vice-presidential nominee this year, win in 2010 and Cruz two years later in his surprise election to the US Senate.
The big question is: can Palin help Trump sway undecided conservatives in the current presidential race? “It does more for her than it does for him. She has been out of the public limelight for quite a while,” said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Iowa.
“I am sure the Cruz people would like to have had her endorsement but that they don’t think this a mortal blow. She might have some influence. It might be a feather on the scale,” Goldford added, “but in a tight race, a feather could matter.”
Trump and Palin have long been close. They share the same views and the same pantomime style. Palin’s folksy manner and “mama grizzly bear” persona appeals to grassroots conservatives in the same way that the simplistic winners-versus-losers rhetoric of Trump appeals to angry, white, blue-collar men.
At Tuesday’s rally, she managed to fill her rambling speech endorsing Trump with her favourite catchphrases: “Drill, baby, drill!”, “Going rogue” (the title of her 2009 autobiography) and “You betcha!”
There was also fighting talk typical of a Trump stump speech. The businessman was going to “kick Isis ass”, she said. She urged Iowa voters to back Trump, imploring them: “No more pussy-footing around!” It remains to be seen whether they will listen.
In Iowa, Palin had the second highest favourability rating among potential 2016 Republican candidates in a 2014 poll, although it has been more than six years since she held political office and the strength of her Tea Party support has changed since its heyday in 2010.
“It is a mixed bag,” said Timothy Hagle, a politics professor at the University of Iowa of whether her endorsement will assist Trump. “Certainly, she appeals to some people in talking about going rogue and fighting the establishment, but some Republicans and conservatives think her time has passed and she has been out of the political spotlight.”
If she decides to “stump for Trump” at his rallies across the country, she will be very much back in the spotlight again.