Selling Trump to the Grassroots: Sarah Palin’s Losing Gamble

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Trying to choose between the two frontrunners for the 2016 Republican nomination for President of the United States?

Consider: one has built–and bankrupted–casinos; the other has protected and defended the U.S. Constitution before the Supreme Court.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has thrown her considerable influence behind the gambler. Whether her endorsement will land the nomination is a “yuuuge” gamble. Will “Mama Grizzlies,” fiscal, social and constitutional conservatives follow her lead?

Having been a grassroots conservative for Palin since she was tapped for vice president in 2008, here is my view on whether the Trump gamble pays off, and why.

“Like you, I am not for sale.”

In a soggy Iowa cornfield, filled with a crowd of Midwestern “prairie-roots” conservatives in 2011, Sarah Palin gave a speech that the liberal New York Times actually praised as “a devastating indictment of the entire US political establishment–left, right and center–and pointed toward a way of transcending the presently unbridgeable political divide.”

That speech was echoed by the one Palin gave to the grassroots crowd when she endorsed Donald Trump for President two weeks before the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

In the 2011 speech, Palin exposed what was destroying America’s greatness: corporate crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and a permanent political class drawn from both Democrats and Republicans, a.k.a. “The Establishment.” These cancers are killing the country at the expense of We, the People.

In her 2016 speech endorsing Trump, Palin took aim at those same grotesque problems.

“Eight years ago, I warned that Obama’s promise of the fundamental transformation of America would take more from you and leave America weaker on the world stage. And that we would soon be unrecognizable. That’s one promise Obama kept. But, he didn’t do it alone.”

Enter the Democrat and Republican Establishment.

“Understand the way the system–the Establishment–works and has gotten us into the troubles we are in. The permanent political class has been doing the bidding of their campaign donor class. That’s why you see the borders kept open–for their cheap labor to come in. That’s why they’ve been bloating budgets–for crony capitalists to suck off them. That’s why we see these lousy trade deals that gut our industry–for special interests.”

The Establishment remains for sale, and Palin slammed them for “whispering they are willing to throw in for Hillary over Trump because they can’t afford to see the satus quo go…they won’t be able to slurp off the gravy train that’s been feeding them all these years. They don’t want it to end!”

Both speeches revealed Palin’s motivations for her endorsement.

In 2011, connecting with grassroots conservatives, Palin declared:

“Like you, I am not for sale.”

Those words drew rousing applause and cheers.

She challenged her audience:

“Ask: what, if anything, do their donors expect in return for their ‘investments’? We need to know this because our country can’t afford more trillion dollar thank-you notes to campaign backers.

“I believe in the free market and that is why I detest crony capitalism. And Barack Obama has shown us cronyism on steroids. It will lead to our downfall if we don’t stop it now.”

Four and a half years later, “Not for Sale” is what Palin now sees in Trump. “He’s from the private sector. He’s not a politician,” she said. “He is beholden to no one but We, the People. How refreshing!”

Now that the campaign for president has revved up, is Trump really a champion for the common person?

Selling the ‘not for sale’ candidate

It may be true that Trump, a billionaire, may not be beholden to anyone.  As of yet, it seems he does not owe anyone political favors. He says he is financing his own campaign. Palin sees that as a huge advantage.

As she wrapped up her endorsement, Palin tried to close the deal:

“We need someone who has the power and the position to bust up that Establishment and make things great again.  He is perfectly positioned to let YOU make America great again. He doesn’t get his power, his ‘high,’ off O-P-M, Other People’s Money, like a lot of dopes in D.C. do. They are addicted to O-P-M…And their high is getting to redistribute it. And they get to be really popular people when they give out your hard earned money.”

A similar strategy was used in the Illinois campaign for Governor in 2014. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy businessman, campaigned promising not to take a salary or pension, declaring “I don’t need anybody’s money. I can’t be bought.”  A candidate that “can’t be bought” by unions, big business or special interests may be too good to be true, but the strategy worked. Rauner won in a solid Democrat “blue” state.

But while both Trump and Rauner celebrate their success in business, Rauner didn’t exactly flaunt his wealth on the campaign trail the way Trump does. Where Rauner wore an $18 wristwatch and drove a 10-year-old van, Trump flies in his own private jet that takes him to a golden-encrusted multi-million dollar enclave overlooking Manhattan.

What makes the selling of Trump to grassroots even harder–as witnessed in comments on Palin’s Facebook page–is not only his liberal-progressive past, but his own words. Simply put, grassroots conservatives can’t trust the man.

Whether others will buy the “I can’t be bought” slogan is still an unknown.

Conservative and grassroots disappointment

In fact, as a grassroots conservative supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for president, Palin’s endorsement of Trump was a punch in the gut, a knife to the conservative heart. The all-day buildup to her 5:30pm CST speech had everyone on the edge of their keypads.

Was she really going to endorse Trump for President? It seemed unfathomable. He had a history of liberal positions. He had even allied in the past with the troubled Democrat frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Worse:

Trump had supported abortion; Palin consistently advocates for life.

Trump had cozied up to big government Democrats and Republicans; Palin attacks crony capitalism and corporate welfare.

Trump had sued a private property owner using the big government hammer of eminent domain; Palin champions private property rights.

So what on earth was she thinking? Was the maverick “going rogue” on her own conservative base for personal gain, as some suggested?

Or was she going rogue on the national liberal media and Establishment, who continue to mess with and disrespect her ever since she exploded onto the national stage in 2008? They chased her in 2012, guessing wildly if she was going to run for president, and insulting her at every turn.

Maybe this trip to Iowa was part payback and she was messing with them.

Maybe she would throw her considerable support to the two frontrunners, Cruz and Trump, just to make the primary interesting. After all, Palin has always touted competitive primaries. This would just shake it up a bit.

When the Times published the headline, “Palin Endorses Trump, Rallying Conservatives,” Fox News reported it. Then CNN, NPR, NBC, Washington Post, Newsweek. If she was messing with them, it would be fun to see a major liberal media snafu with mud on their front pages.

But a bigger shock–and the sharpest cut–came when Palin’s oldest daughter, Bristol, used her blog at Patheos to unnecessarily attack Cruz, a favorite among conservatives whose campaign earlier warned that if Palin did endorse Trump, her credibility as a principled conservative would be “damaged.”

Bristol took that as a slam. It wasn’t. It was a reality check–one that a huge chunk of the conservative base acknowledged.

Sen. Cruz gracefully smoothed hurt egos via Twitter: “I love @SarahPalinUSA. Without her support, I wouldn’t be in the Senate. Regardless of what she does in 2016. I will always be a big fan.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. Fellow conservatives who agreed with Palin’s endorsement of Trump took to Twitter to mock the “moaning” of conservatives who were deeply disappointed.

David Limbaugh, conservative icon Rush Limbaugh’s brother, explained via Twitter: “It’s not that I think Sarah’s endorsement will hurt Cruz that much. It’s that I am just disappointed. I REALLY like her. I won’t trash her.”

He’s right. Those who “get” Sarah Palin, what motivates her, and know her record, won’t trash her because we respect her.

But liberals and progressives–even those within the GOP–gleefully speculated Palin was “selling out for money” and the “spotlight.” (News flash: she’s earned her wealth and sought-after influence.)

Katie Pavlich at Townhall tore into Palin on Twitter, saying the move “reeks of opportunism, not conservative principles.”

Her colleague, Guy Benson, lamented a Palin-Trump alliance as “emotionalist, nationalistic populism will have officially –perhaps temporarily—supplanted principled, policy-driven, limited-government conservatism as the dominant strain within the American right-wing.”

Here’s why he’s wrong.

An endorsement, not a conservative sellout

One only need listen–carefully–to her endorsement speech and discern that Palin has not betrayed her conservative principles. They are the same as they were back in that Indianola, Iowa field in 2011.

In fact, Palin’s endorsement speech underscored her conservative convictions and fierce determination to take on and defeat the permanent political class in both parties.

To the disappointment of Ted Cruz supporters, she believes she can do it best with Trump.

Fellow conservative fighters in Congress, she said, are needed to stay where they are–a reference to Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz.

Palin began her endorsement with the number one issue closest to her heart: the strength of the U.S. military and the men and women who sacrifice and serve. She has consistently led with gratitude and praise for those in uniform, most notably at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Her considerable passion–to “kick ISIS’s ass! –burned bright during her Trump endorsement speech, possibly fueled by the troubles her son, Track, is experiencing after serving in Afghanistan.

“I bet you are ready to see our vets treated better than illegal immigrants are treated in this country.” Trump has promised to strengthen the military.

She hammered the current conservative majorities in the GOP: handing Obama a blank check to fund Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, illegal immigration that competes for American worker’s jobs, and turning “safety nets” into “hammocks.”

Sharpening iron

Since the beginning of her days in public service, as part of the process to get the best candidate, Palin has consistently championed “competition in the primaries”. She was the underdog in a primary challenge for Governor against the Alaska GOP establishment incumbent, Fran Murkowski. She ran a grassroots campaign and beat him.

Much like Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” so candidates sharpen one another in the primaries. The one who actually allows him/herself to be sharpened wins.

With Palin’s early endorsement–ahead of the Iowa Caucus–it seemed she was tossing that wise advice in the hog troughs of Iowa.

Or was she?

“Some of these Establishment candidates wanted to duck and hide–not talk of issues until he (Trump) brought them up. These issues that Trump talks about had to be debated and he brought them to the forefront. And that’s why we are–with a heated and competitive primary.”

While we are definitely in a heated and competitive primary, Trump was not the first candidate to bring up “the issues.” In fact, Cruz has been highlighting tough issues in congressional filibusters, standing up to Establishment types in his own party, and even sounding the alarm on crony capitalism, like this one back in 2014 in USA Today.

Here’s the rub: Trump isn’t the only one taking on the tough issues. Cruz is–and has the long record to prove it.

The trusted vs. the gambler

In the 2011 speech, Palin reminded grassroots conservatives to ask tough questions and hold candidates accountable:

“Folks, you know that it’s not enough to just change the uniform. If we don’t change up the team and the game plan, we won’t save our country… This, of course, requires deeds and not just words. It’s not good enough for the politicians to just be throwing some vague generalities. It’s time we hold them accountable.” (

The problem: when someone asks Trump a question, he doesn’t wade deeply into policy-driven solutions. Instead, he makes personal–even childish–attacks against his competitors and avoids the question, while proudly wearing “the mantle of anger.”

Then saying everyone else is “failing” or a “loser,” he claims he’s the best and everybody loves him. Sort of like all the New York coffee shops who claim to have “The World’s Best Coffee.”

In speeches to grassroots over the years, Palin has repeatedly empowered the people to make America great again. With Trump, it is all about how he will make America great again.

As one undecided voter says, “He’s so arrogant.”

While Palin insists he is a “master dealmaker” who can take on foreign adversaries and the Establishment, Trump may have committed a fatal slip with a bravado that will come back to haunt him:

“We’ve been complimented by so many people. We’ve been contacted by the Establishment types. They all want to know how do they get involved with the campaign. They’re giving up on their candidates. And how do they get in. I mean these are real Establishment people that I’ve known when I was a member of the Establishment. And meaning a giver, a big donor. They’re contacting us left and right about joining the campaign. And these are serious Establishment types. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad thing really, frankly. I don’t even care that much. It doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t even care that much”?  And “It doesn’t matter”?

Tell a Mama Grizzly that’s the attitude of the person who wants to take charge of the future of their children’s country and you’re likely to get a growl. Or worse.

This is why constitutional, grassroots, Mama Grizzlies are saying “Nope, keep the change.”  We can’t entrust our kids, our jobs, our military, our Constitution to someone who prides himself on “the art of the deal” with … whomever.

All while filing for bankruptcy to shed himself of millions of dollars in debt.

On the other hand, Sen. Ted Cruz has proven himself trustworthy. When met with adversity–personally and professionally–he relies on his faith, tenacity, constitutional convictions, God-given talents and We, the People.

From the divorce of his parents, to the death of his drug-addicted sister, to the cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, to the battle against a GOP establishment millionaire for the Senate seat in Texas, Cruz has emerged victorious.

Last summer, during an Iowa campaign appearance with Concerned Women of America, Cruz was immediately attacked by the leftist organization Code Pink. Rather than shout them down with insults, Cruz graciously invited the agitators to talk about their issues. For over twenty minutes, he treated them with respect, even though they interrupted his speech.

In her book, Going Rogue, as she campaigned for Governor, Palin told voters she was “always thinking of their kids and mine.” Her advice then is true now:

“There’s a lot riding on this election, including the trust of future generations. We need new energy and someone with a stiff spine to fight for you.”

If Sarah Palin wants to take on the permanent political class, crony capitalism, and corporate welfare–while strengthening the military, protecting the free market and Constitution–her best bet is another candidate.  One who We, the People can trust and who has proven he has the stiff spine to fight for them.