You know, I used to like Sarah Palin.
Actually I still do, but I’m also trying to figure out how a political figure who has been an integral part of the TEA Party movement since the beginning could give her imprimatur to the Republican in the field who is arguably the least conservative in the overall scheme of things. In Trump’s world, aside from immigration and perhaps global trade, we won’t deal with the excesses of government in any meaningful way. He’s pledged to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, despite the fact that both entitlements are going bankrupt. As a complete suck-up to the ethanol industry in Iowa, Trump is calling for more ethanol to be blended into our gasoline as well. Neither of those positions scream “limited-government conservative” to me.
In reading the reaction over the last day or so, people either seem to be shooting the messenger by panning the speech or the various foibles of Palin family members, or they are assuming that Palin has sold out once again for the almighty buck trying to extend her fifteen minutes of fame, or they believe she’s got a deal to secure a Cabinet post in a Trump administration. Some even believe it will be a Trump/Palin ticket. We haven’t seen as much of the “mama grizzly” lately so maybe she needed to be back in the limelight again. Meanwhile, as Erick Erickson argues, Trump is trying to pick up the win in Iowa to shut out Ted Cruz in the first few states as Trump has huge leads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Byron York saw it as a way to get Iowans torn between Trump and Cruz off the fence.
To me, it’s just another part of the ongoing struggle between limited-government conservatism and the big-government populism that Trump seems to be cornering with every vague promise to make things great again, played out in the Republican primary. Unfortunately, by espousing government-based solutions Trump is just serving to perpetuate the policies that have messed things up in the first place.
Yet if you ask a Trump supporter why they support him, the answer tends to be in the realm of being an outsider with a record of getting things done. We have a problem with illegal aliens? Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it! And we can’t trust those Muslims, so we just won’t let them in! Once The Donald says it will happen, by golly it’s going to occur.
Okay, fair enough. It may work very well in an autonomous corporation where whatever The Donald says is law, but may not translate nearly as well when you need a majority of the 535 members of Congress to assist you in getting things accomplished the proper way. Sure, Trump can go the executive order route on a lot of things but isn’t that our major complaint about the Obama regime? Just because it’s a guy on “our” side doesn’t make it any more Constitutional to govern by dictate, with the probable exception of rescinding previous orders. (I would rather Congress do that heavy work, though.)
So it comes back to what Palin saw in Trump. In the brief release from the Trump campaign, the reason stated for Palin to back Trump is his “leadership and unparalleled ability to speak the truth and produce real results.” I would categorize it as saying what people want to hear (for example, he stated his new-found position on ethanol in front of a lobbying group) with the results being oodles of press coverage. Admittedly, Trump has helped make immigration a key issue with his remarks, but I think that discussion was going to occur anyway.
The other “real result” seems to be that of finally erasing the line between politician and celebrity. Ronald Reagan was known to the public as an actor, so he had some amount of recognition from those who weren’t political junkies. (Unlike Trump, though, Reagan had a political resume as governor of California.) Bill Clinton tried to portray himself as hip by frequent appearances on mainstream entertainment shows, and that trend has continued with both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Having been a reality TV star, Trump takes this cultural recognition to a new level, which may expand the universe of possible voters but brings us much closer to the undesirable aspects of governance by popularity rather than ability.
If Sarah Palin was looking to improve her brand recognition, she did well by endorsing Trump. But if she’s looking to improve America…well, maybe not so much.