Any political party in which the endorsement of Sarah Palin is considered valuable is a party in intellectual crisis. But of course, the same is even more true of a party in which Donald Trump is leading in almost every poll in almost every state.
Palin and Trump, a perfect match. And let’s be clear: Without Sarah Palin, there probably would be no Trump. One reality star paved the way for the second. By lowering its standards enough to embrace Palin, the Republican Party left itself no defenses against a Trump or a Ted Cruz.
Eight years ago, remember, the GOP establishment and media shamelessly defended Palin as a legitimate candidate, even after they had glaring proof of her ignorance and incompetence. She had no business in big-league politics, they knew it and they did not care. They thought that she could be sold and packaged and handled, just as they thought that her supporters could be handled and packaged.
And when the press dared to point out the obvious — that Palin knew nothing about policy, and what she thought she knew was spectacularly wrong – they were dismissed as elitist and biased. Republicans were so enthralled by her ability to stir a crowd, to say the unsayable, to sense and then amplify the resentments of the GOP base that they paid no attention to her utter lack of qualifications. They told their base that it didn’t matter, and their base believed them and believes them still.
You reap what you sow.
And it’s funny, in a sad kind of way, to watch some elements of the conservative movement coming to grips with what has happened to them. Eight years after the fact, with the damage already done, they are now echoing the very same descriptions of Palin that they once found so objectionable when voiced by others.
At RedState, founder Erick Erickson was once so adamant in support of Palin that he launched “Operation Leper” in the wake of the 2008 election, devoted to ferreting out all Republicans who had dared to speak ill of Saint Sarah to the press. His goal was to ensure that they never again worked in Republican politics. These days, RedState itself tells us that “the Palins are just such ridiculous people” and describes the Trump endorsement as “today’s crapshow.”
Likewise, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard now proclaims himself appalled by Trump and everything that he represents, accusing him of “soiling the robe of conservatism and dragging it through the dust.” Yet this same Bill Kristol was a stalwart champion of Palin and everything that she represents. Back in the day, he even took credit for discovering Palin and for pressuring the McCain campaign to nominate her.
And at National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke dares to complain that when you talk with a Palin fan these days, “you will be told in a matter of moments that to oppose her is to oppose ‘real America.’ Talk to a Trump fan, and you will be told that to knock him is to knock ‘We the people’ — of which, it is made abundantly clear, you are no longer a valued part.”
Why does that sound so familiar? Perhaps because that “clash of civilizations” argument between the elite and “real Americans” is precisely the argument that conservatives — including those at Cooke’s own publication — long deployed against Palin critics.
Again, Palin’s essential nature is not something that slowly became apparent over time. It was glaring the moment that she first opened her mouth in an unscripted setting. But those in the party who should have spoken out chose to stay silent.
“The prospect of a mass movement that was earnestly committed to libertarianism was always a little too good to be true, but even I didn’t imagine it ending like this,” a crestfallen Cooke wrote yesterday just before the Palin endorsement. “All that talk of the Constitution and the Declaration; all that energy expended against the cronies and the rent-seekers; all those purifying voter drives — and for what? So that Sarah Palin could add a few zeroes to her bank balance and Donald Trump could go from the purchaser to the bought? Today was the day that Rick Santelli’s famous yelp finally melted into populism and avarice. Today, at about ten minutes past six, P. T. Barnum beat out Hayek for the soul of the insurgent Right. Today, the rebels became the charlatans they had set out to depose.”
Cooke got everything right but the timing. The decision to sell out came eight years ago; this is just the devil coming to claim what is his.