Well, I thought the Palin speech was grating and idiotic, but then, I would think that. But in terms of politics, I agree with Scott Adams: it was probably a home run for Trump.
Before Palin took the stage, my colleague Daniel Larison tweeted that Trump, who gassed on about his greatness for over 20 minutes, was saying the same things that made us all dismiss him as a joke six months ago. Who’s laughing now? You wanna laugh at this year’s model of Palin too?
She’s a much better articulator of Trumpism than Trump himself is. She’s upbeat, she’s folksy, she brings the you-betcha populism home hard. Her entire message was, “They think they’re so much smarter than us, but our Donald, he’ll show them! Come on, gang, are you with us?” She’s a much more practiced giver of speeches than Trump is, and much better at it. It doesn’t matter that people like me blanch at her whiny accent, her cheesy rhetoric, her dopey malapropisms (“squirmishes” for “skirmishes”). She killed on that stage.
Since Donald Trump entered the race, one opponent after another has attacked him as not a real conservative. They’ve been right, too! And the same could have been said about Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin knew little and cared less about most of the issues that excited conservative activists and media. She owed her then-sky-high poll numbers in Alaska to an increase in taxes on oil production that she used to fund a $1,200 per person one-time cash payout—a pretty radical deviation from the economic ideology of the Wall Street Journal and the American Enterprise Institute. What defined her was an identity as a “real American”—and her conviction that she was slighted and insulted and persecuted because of this identity.
That’s exactly the same feeling to which Donald Trump speaks, and which has buoyed his campaign. When he’s president, he tells voters, department stores will say “Merry Christmas” again in their advertisements. Probably most of his listeners would know, if they considered it, that the president of the United States does not determine the ad copy for Walmart and Nordstrom’s. They still appreciate the thought: He’s one of us—and he’s standing up for us against all of them—at a time when we feel weak and poor and beleaguered, and they seem more numerous, more dangerous, and more aggressive.
Meanwhile, Trump is battling against Ted Cruz of Princeton and Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court practitioner married to an investment banker, who insists that the dividing line between “us” and “them” is not life story, not personal experience, but ideas and values.
Donald Trump, billionaire real estate tycoon, just covered himself with downmarket, populist glory tonight. And as Frum says (it’s a great short piece), if this pushes Trump over the top in Iowa, and he wins big in New Hampshire (as he is poised to do), Trump heads into South Carolina with tremendous momentum — and he’s already up 14 points over Cruz, his nearest competitor, in the Palmetto State.
Not a single vote has been cast, but already, the Republican establishment is in shambles. Not one of its candidates are truly competitive. Not yet. Maybe they never will be. If Rubio doesn’t show in Iowa, New Hampshire (his best shot), or South Carolina, the party regulars are going to go all in for the despised-by-GOP-insiders Cruz to stop Trump. Which may not even be possible by that point.
Either way, by this time next year, we will have a different Republican Party.