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Darryl Paulson: Will the Sarah Palin endorsement of Donald Trump matter?

In many respects, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump have little in common.

She is a small-town girl from Alaska who hunts moose and any other creature on hooves. Trump is a big-city boy from Manhattan who hunts fortunes. While Palin has ties to conservatives and evangelicals, Trump is neither conservative nor evangelical.

In the 21st century, Trump has donated far more money to Democrats than Republicans, and his inability to cite his favorite Bible passage and his reference to Two Corinthians instead of Second Corinthians is testimony to his evangelical connection.

There are some commonalities between Trump and Palin. They both share a bombastic political style with frequent use of cliches. They did appear together in 2011 when Trump and Palin dined on pizza during Palin’s bus tour while she was considering a run for president.

Trump was widely criticized for eating his pizza with a fork and knife. Finally, they also share some staff. Michael Glassner, now Trump’s national political director, was chief of staff of SaraPAC, Palin’s political action committee.

Trump introduced Palin at the Iowa endorsement meeting by calling her a “spectacular person.” The Trump press release called Palin a “trusted conservative” who “has a proven record of being fiscally modest, staunchly pro-life and believes in small government that allows business to grow and faith to prosper.”

Palin’s endorsement praised Trump for “coming from the private sector” and said he was “not a politician.” Trump would have the “strength and leadership to fight terrorists.” She called the election of Trump a “now or never” moment in American politics to change the course of American politics.

Why would Palin endorse Trump when in 2012 she endorsed and actively supported Ted Cruz in his successful underdog campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas? Palin pointed to Trump’s “rogue” campaign in taking on the political establishment. Trump’s been “going rogue left and right. That’s why he is doing so well. He’s been able to tear the veil off of this idea of the system.”

A Palin endorsement strengthens Trump’s outsider appeal, and makes it OK for Republicans to support a New Yorker, always suspect among Republican voters. Palin may also comfort evangelical voters who are concerned about Trump’s religious bona fides. As Ralph Reed, Chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, notes, “Palin’s brand among evangelicals is as gold as the faucets in Trump tower.”

Finally, the Palin endorsement will dominate news for days, denying other Republican candidates from getting the media exposure they need.

There are those who argue that the real beneficiary of the Trump endorsement is Sarah Palin. After being trusted on the national stage when John McCain selected Palin as his vice presidential nominee, her national exposure led to lucrative financial ventures. She was hired as a FOX News contributor, had her own reality TV show and her political biography sold more than two million copies.

The Palin luster has faded. FOX News dropped her, the reality show is gone and her SaraPAC has had limited success recently. Endorsing Trump puts her back in the political spotlight. Strangely, the individual responsible for the emergence of Palin on the national scene now finds her supporting the candidate who said John McCain is not a war hero because he was captured.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the Palin endorsement is the media, especially Lorne Michaels and “Saturday Night Live.”  I can envision the millions turning in to see how the endorsement is portrayed.

I hope Tina Fey is available.


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and resides in Palm Harbor, Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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