Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Sarah's Choice

The already unconventional 2016 Republican Primary process was rocked by a charter flight between Anchorage, Alaska to Des Moines, Iowa for former Governor Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) of Donald J. Trump for President.  Gov. Palin was the maverick Vice Presidential choice of 2008 Republican nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and her anti-establishment Republican conservatism was thought to carry cache with the Tea Party.

One of the beauties of the Tea Party is that it is not a leader driven movement.  It was sparked by a tax day 2009 protest about being Taxed Enough Already.  This movement occurred after Sarah Palin’s ascendency, so the Tea Party was energized by Palin espousing Tea Party policies but she did not necessarily embody the movement.  Even after it was clear that Palin was going to support his opponent in Election 2016, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted thanks to Palin for her prior support.

As a inveterate Tea Party type, I must admit disappointment in Sarah’s choice. Palin have often campaigned on limited government, ending government subsidies for ethanol, and strict adherence to the Constitution.  Yet Palin’s endorsement of Trump validates a candidate who hardly mentions the Constitution, panders for votes in Iowa by increasing ethanol mandates and whose rhetoric has an authoritarian edge.  In short, Palin chose populism over principle.

Since vaulting out of obscurity in Alaska, Sarah Palin has been a populist inspired conservative politician. Her choice to support Trump seems to drop the pretense of conservatism. Trump has cultivated a pugnacious appeal spoiling for a fight, although the objectives may be obscured. In 2008, Palin’s running mate John McCain relished being a maverick who will fight for you.  At the time, many Palin boosters thought that she would be a conservative oriented populist. Palin’s pick impeaches that perspective.

One might wonder what prompted Palin’s choice.  Well, Palin has been out of the limelight for a while.  After Palin left the Alaska Governorship in 2010, she was a political commentator for Fox News from 2011-2015.  When Fox News parted ways with Palin, Palin established the Sarah Palin Channel in 2014 but pulled the plug on the $9.95/month subscription price after a year. Now her video content is available free on Facebook. Palin also hosted Amazing America with Sarah Palin on the Sportman Channel in 2014.  This is a far cry from her GOP kingmaker potential in the early days of the Tea Party. Sarah's choice certainly put her back in the limelight, for now.

Much like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin is good at creating headlines for political junkies, even if both speakers have trouble stringing together sentences in their evocative appeals.  It is also a fair assessment that Trump and Palin either strongly appeal to supporters or loathing from opponents.

Will Sarah's choice help Donald Trump in the Iowa Caucuses?  Trump seems to be relying upon earned media and hype to drive supporters to the Hawkeye Cauci instead of an organized ground game. It is thought that Trump would have to garner a groundswell of new voters to go to the Caucus.  Social Media sports many Trump trolls who trumpet their leader, but it is hard to see support in Iowa itself.  Trump may hope that Palin’s endorsement will put them over the top, but he may end up wondering how that hopey-changey thing worked out for him.

In the end, Palin's endorsement of Trump may be a good thing for the Tea Party. It will clarify if the movement is meant as a populist rage against the GOP Establishment's machine or if it stands for conservative Constitutional principles.  In other election cycles, the latter group would have little choice but to opt for a populist.  But as it stands for the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, Tea Party conservatives  can choose Dr. Ben Carson or Senator Ted Cruz without sacrificing their principles. 

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