Donald Trump has been teasing a “major endorsement” that he is scheduled to release today in Iowa, and the rampant speculation is that it will be Sarah Palin’s. I don’t really know if this particular speculation is true, but I do know that if Palin doesn’t endorse Trump today, she will endorse him eventually. At this point, only a particularly aggressive hair splitter would concede that she has not endorsed Trump already.
The last few months have not been pretty for conservatives who have long denied with angry vehemence the allegation that many of the leading figures in the conservative movement were only in it for the money and/or the attention. Liberals have long claimed that this was true about people like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and a long list of others, especially including Sarah Palin.
Oh, how we have been deceived by the dulcet tones of arguments that sound internally consistent and which fit with our own preconceived notions of the world. “Nonsense,” we loudly declared. “These people believe things, and we can tell you with certainty what they are! See, we have their books that we have purchased where it is all laid out!”
The going narrative in and around DC is that the Trump assault has been an eye-opening phenomenon to the GOP Establishment. Maybe, maybe not. I have my doubts about Mitch McConnell and gang’s ability to learn anything, and they are moreover already cozying up to the Trump organization anticipating that he will win the nomination.
On the other hand, it has been an alarmingly eye-opening phenomenon to millions of ordinary conservative Americans who enjoyed consuming talk radio and the serial works of conservative authors, under the (apparently naive) belief that they meant what they said. Because when Trump – who spent his entire life believing in none of those things – came along and started getting ratings, almost all of them to a man jumped on board the train, because the Trump boomlet was so easy to monetize.
It is one thing for people like Rush, or Hannity, or Palin or whoever, to jump on board with a likely ideological weathervane like Mitt Romney after the die had already been cast for his nomination, especially in a 2012 field without viable challengers. But the 2016 field was loaded with genuine conservative stars, and the speed with which they were abandoned by almost every major conservative personality who earns their money directly from either ratings or book sales was dizzying and depressing. Limbaugh, in particular, has been a depressing listen for the last year for me and a whole host of other people who have been listening to him for over two decades – my only hope is that he has some as-yet-unplayed ace up his sleeve.
If you could have predicted, back in February 2015, that Glenn Beck would be mounting virtually a one-man crusade against the proposition that Trump is any way conservative, you would have probably been able to make a hefty amount of money in Vegas. At least Levin seems to have realized, albeit somewhat late in the game, that the monster he helped create truly is a monster. Meanwhile, Rush opened his show last week by chortling with good natured humor at Trump’s decision to start his rallies by playing “Born in the USA” – that’s right, the nation’s leading talk radio host is now engaging in playful indulgence of Cruz birtherism.
Which brings us back, sadly, to Palin. Palin was a tremendously powerful force for good as recently as 2010, in helping many conservatives to oust moderates whose anti-conservative heresies paled noticeably compared to Trump’s. Somewhere along the way, though, Palin realized that there was a lot of money to be made by presenting herself as the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by a so-called “smart set,” which she in her wily caginess was always able (in her own mind) to outsmart.
The end result has been predictably disastrous. The last time she endorsed a candidate, it was in the Alaska gubernatorial race – a race in which she endorsed a Democrat and an Independent over what can only be described as a petty personal feud with her ex-running mate. These feuds have sadly become one of the defining characteristics of Sarah Palin’s public persona, as all of us at this website well know.
By all accounts, there is literally no excuse for Sarah Palin not to endorse Ted Cruz, if she believes even half the things she’s been saying over the years about mavericks and people who have taken on entrenched Republican interests. Donald Trump has done none of this. In fact, he specifically attacked Ted Cruz over the weekend on the basis that the Establishment does not like him.
Trump has spent his entire life using crony capitalism to enrich himself while espousing socially and economically liberal ideas. The only thing that makes him “non-Establishment” is that he doesn’t have the basic human decency that God granted to every person who doesn’t realize that making fun of disabled people is wrong.
Trump is, however, great for ratings. Wherever he goes, television cameras are sure to follow. And moreover, he has plugged in to the “Isn’t it terrible how the media thinks they are smarter than us” sentiment to a degree that one could argue that it is the single animating force for more than half his support.
Say what you will about Palin, but she is no dummy. She’s smart enough to realize which side her bread is buttered on and it is the side that increases her personal profile by siding with Trump. What she is doing is a rather shrewd way to keep her personal profile high.
It may not be especially principled, or honorable, or in keeping with anything she has professed to believe in since she burst onto the national scene in 2008, but it isn’t stupid.
And after it is all said and done, Palin will always have a cachet in terms of people who are willing to buy her books and watch her on TV, because they like her so much that the quality and content of her words don’t actually matter. But for those who expected or thought that Sarah Palin was about something larger than herself, today will be the bitter culmination of a long, slow, sad descent.
The good news, though, is that conservatism isn’t about people, no matter how prominent they are. It is about ideas. And just because Sarah Palin has endorsed a guy who thinks eminent domain abuse is great doesn’t mean that the the sanctity of private property as an idea isn’t powerful and capable of changing an entire society. And when the dust has settled and this Trump phenomenon has moved on, the ideas of liberty, freedom, and reduced government intrusion into the lives of citizens will still remain. I just hope our country as we know it isn’t destroyed in the process.