I know what you’re thinking because everyone else is thinking it.
It can’t be her. Can it?
Join me on Tuesday, January 19th at the Iowa State University Hansen Agricultural Student Learning Center in Ames, Iowa! I will have a major announcement and a very special guest in attendance. You will not want to miss this rally!
Mark Halperin tweets, “Does anybody know where @SarahPalinUSA plans to be on Tuesday?” GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak is also guessing Palin. The Freepers at Free Republic? Mostly guessing Palin, although some of the anti-Trumpers there expect Bernie Sanders to drop out and back Trump instead. Realistically, assuming it’s an endorsement worthy of being promoted on Trump’s Facebook page, who else could it be? The only big-name Republican I can think of who might conceivably endorse Trump is Jeff Sessions (he appeared briefly at a Trump rally in Alabama last year), but Cruz consulted with Sessions before rolling out his immigration plan last fall so maybe that keeps Sessions neutral. Palin is a more predictable match in every way. She and Trump have been allies for years. No other pols have excited right-wing populists during the Obama era the way each of them has. When asked by CNN in November who the “standout” candidate in the race was, Palin mentioned Trump, not Cruz, which surprised me at the time. And Palin recently praised Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s movement in France, signaling her openness to Trump-style nationalism. It would make sense if she went all-in for him.
It would make sense, I should say, if there were no “true conservative” candidate running for president. But there is. The irony of Palin endorsing Trump this year of all years, if it happens, is that the tea party finally has a candidate running who not only passes nearly every litmus test they can throw at him but who’s run a brilliant campaign and stands a shockingly good chance of winning. That’s Cruz, a guy whom Palin herself has praised repeatedly in the past. (Rubio fans would tell you that it’s Rubio too, apart from that pesky immigration litmus test and the, er, brilliant campaign part.) If she backs Trump tomorrow, Cruz fans will laugh it off and call her a has-been who won’t move any votes but (a) I’m not sure that’s true and (b) that’s missing the point of why a Palin endorsement would be significant. Support from Palin would give Trump some cover on the inevitable attacks from Cruz that he’s an establishmentarian in populist clothing. That’s Trump’s biggest vulnerability; any cover he can get for it from another populist with a national profile will help him. The larger meaning of Palin endorsing Trump, though, would be the signal it sends that populist conservatism is now less about conservatism than it is about populism. If you have enough of the latter, you don’t need to worry much about the former. It would be a bookend to the tea-party era, which started with Palin and Glenn Beck yelling at Obama about progressive tyranny and would end with Beck yelling at Palin and Trump about progressive tyranny. That’s what makes Trump versus Cruz such good theater if you’ve followed the tea party during Obama’s presidency. Essentially it’s a test of whether tea-party revolutionaries want a counterrevolution, a return to the strongman after a period of chaos, or to stick with the guy who better represents their ideals in Cruz. If you’re a true believer, Palin backing Trump would be a bit like Marianne endorsing Napoleon. Your move, revolutionaries.
My prediction is that it’s not her. She’ll stay neutral between Trump and Cruz and Trump’s “major announcement” tomorrow will involve some local pol. Even if I’m right, though, the revolution/counterrevolution question persists. I recommend this David French piece from over the weekend about a key mistake that GOP leaders have made in understanding their base: When push comes to shove, rank-and-file Republicans aren’t that conservative. They’re culturally conservative in various ways and will go along with GOP dogma in the name of advancing that cultural agenda, but give them a candidate like Trump who can deliver cultural conservatism without some of the economic, social, and military trappings of full-spectrum conservatism and they’re A-OK with him. That’s another undertone of the Cruz/Trump fight: Is the party conservative with some reactionary leanings or essentially reactionary with some conservative leanings? We’ll find out.
Update: Toldja. Although I was wrong about the “local pol” bit.
Multiple little birdies tell me Jerry Falwell, Jr. is going to endorse Trump for president and come to Iowa with him tomorrow.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) January 18, 2016
Jerry Falwell Jr introduced Trump at Liberty University today and praised him so effusively that Russell Moore took to Twitter to complain. If he’d already committed to Trump privately, shouldn’t he maybe have mentioned that before laying it on thick as a supposedly neutral commentator with cable television carrying his remarks live?
Ah well. In theory, this cuts into Cruz’s edge with evangelicals in Iowa. In practice, given how many more endorsements Cruz has from prominent Christian activists, from Tony Perkins to Bob Vander Plaats to James Dobson, how much does it hurt really?
Update: New this evening from Deace:
Pretty much everybody I know now believes Trump's special guest in Iowa tomorrow night is now going to be Sarah Palin.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) January 19, 2016
Deace is a Cruz supporter, so if you want to believe this is some form of kabuki or disinformation designed to raise unreasonable expectations for Trump’s announcement, that option is available to you.