Sarah Palin made her seemingly inevitable endorsement of Donald Trump official on Tuesday night in a 20-minute, slam-poetry session that masterfully wove together a variety of incoherent right-wing clichés. But as opposed to Trump’s long, meandering visions of America on the brink of ruin, Palin’s speech in Ames, Iowa, actually had a point (aside from reclaiming her political relevance). The former Alaska governor took the opportunity to lash out at the Republican establishment, informing them that they are not the arbiters of who’s a true conservative.
While her remarks included the requisite Obama jabs, Palin offered a lengthy critique of the “permanent political class [that’s] been doing the bidding of their campaign donor class,” saying it’s galling that those in the GOP establishment are “attacking their own front-runner.” She continued:>
What they’re doing is wailing, “Well, Trump and his, uh, uh, uh, Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.” Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservatism? Tell me, is this conservative? GOP majorities handing over a blank check to fund Obamacare and Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration that competes for your jobs, and turning safety nets into hammocks, and all these new Democrat voters that are going to be coming on over border as we keep the borders open, and bequeathing our children millions in new debt, and refusing to fight back for our solvency, and our sovereignty, even though that’s why we elected them and sent them as a majority to D.C. No! If they’re not willing to do that, then how are they to tell us that we’re not conservative enough in order to be able to make these changes in America that we know need to be …
Now they’re concerned about this ideological purity? Give me a break! Who are they to say that? Oh tell somebody like, Phyllis Schlafly, she is the Republican, conservative movement icon and hero and a Trump supporter. Tell her she’s not conservative. How bout the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our god, and our religion, and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.
Questions about how the endorsement reflected on Palin’s conservatism began earlier in the day, when Ted Cruz spokesperson Rick Tyler said of Palin’s rumored Trump endorsement, “I think it’d be a blow to Sarah Palin, because Sarah Palin has been a champion for the conservative cause, and if she was going to endorse Donald Trump, sadly, she would be endorsing someone who’s held progressive views all their life on the sanctity of life, on marriage, on partial-birth abortion.”
But some Republicans still said that they were deeply disappointed to see Palin backing Trump. An Independent Journal Review opinion piece argued that she just “threw away years of goodwill as a principled conservative,” and in the New York Daily News, S.E. Cupp said Palin is no longer the “rogue conservative” she knew in 2008, noting that Trump has flip-flopped on many of Palin’s core issues, including her opposition to gun control, abortion rights, and Obamacare.
The critics miss a fundamental truth about Palin: While she was the face of the party’s most conservative wing for a time, she isn’t all that ideological. As New York’s Ed Kilgore explained earlier today: “Conservatism for both Trump and Palin simply supplies the raw material of politics and a preassembled group of aggrieved white people ready to follow anyone purporting to protect hard-earned threatened privileges, whether it’s Social Security and Medicare benefits or religious hegemony.”
That’s not to say that Palin isn’t authentically aggrieved at Republican Party leaders. After being plucked from relative obscurity and placed on the GOP ticket in 2008, she was widely blamed for the downfall of its establishment nominee. As Palin noted on Tuesday night:
[When I decided to endorse Trump] I was told left and right, “You are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up, and chewed up, and spit out.” You know, I’m thinking, And? You know, like you guys haven’t tried to do that every day since that night in ’08, when I was on stage nominated for VP, and I got to say, “Yeah, I’ll go, send me, you betcha. I’ll serve.”
Palin’s description of the GOP establishment’s attitude toward Trump supporters isn’t quite right, though. They think Trump’s insufficiently conservative (due to the fact that he was a Democrat for years), and his supporters are too dumb to notice or care. But in her endorsement speech, Palin did what she does best: She articulated the feelings of a group of angry, right-wing voters who believe the Republican establishment doesn’t respect them.
This post has been updated throughout.