Tea Party darling Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump on Tuesday, ridiculing the argument from Trump’s Republican critics that he has not been a reliable, consistent conservative during his years in public life.
“What the heck does the Establishment know about conservatism?” she said.
Palin’s official imprimatur, delivered in a packed auditorium at Iowa State University, capped a good day for Trump that also included the endorsement of John Wayne’s daughter, Aissa Wayne. The support from both comes just as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz moves into a second week of questioning Trump’s conservative bona fides as the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses approach.
Palin’s backing could be the boost the real estate tycoon needs to separate himself from Cruz, according to an expert on the Iowa caucuses. Justin Holmes, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said this could mean more than the typical political endorsement.
“It’s a moderately big deal,” he told LifeZette. “You have a couple things going on that makes this one different … He’s done fine with evangelical voters here, but he is not one who is particularly religious.”
Holmes said that Palin, who is more public about her faith, could help shore up support. Additionally, Republican voters in Iowa who are torn between Trump and Cruz could view the endorsement as a tie-breaker, said Holmes.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, said Trump would be a strong commander in chief, would protect America’s borders, stop harmful trade deals and pursue needed tax reform. She also praised his willingness to stop race-baiting, preserve gun rights and fight against abortion.
“He is the master of the art of the deal,” she said, a reference to his best-selling book from the 1980s. “He is beholden to no one but we the people. How refreshing.”
Palin said President Obama “has not acted alone” in remaking America. She said part of the blame belongs with congressional Republicans who have been too accommodating of the president’s agenda, she said.
“He has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it,” she said.
Trump thanked Palin, telling the crowd he had coveted her support.
“It’s a person that I think is a spectacular person,” he said.
Trump’s remarks resembled others he has delivered in front of massive audiences during the campaign. He recited favorable poll numbers and spouted off talking points on the issues, from immigration to trade to gun rights to terrorism. At one point, he directed the security staff to eject a heckler as the crowd shouted, “USA! USA!”
Trump also took a few shots at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the Common Core education program and immigration. He said Bush has spent tens of millions of dollars and has nothing to show for it.
“I’ve spent at this point almost nothing, and I’m in first place,” he said.
Trump also said he would block any effort to remove Iowa from its jealously guarded position as the nation’s first caucus or primary state.
“I give you my word: I win, they’re not touching Iowa,” he said.
Palin has a history of getting involved in Republican primaries, sometimes backing candidates who won after beginning their campaigns in back of the pack. She backed Nikki Haley in her primary race for South Carolina governor in 2010. Haley was one of a number of Palin-endorsed women to win high-profile races that year, a list that includes New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
One of the candidates whom Palin helped push into office from obscurity is Trump’s chief rival — Ted Cruz. The senator, whose staff said earlier on Tuesday that Palin would hurt herself by endorsing Trump, later acknowledged he would not be in the Senate today without her help.
Cruz faces not only the prospect of Trump basking in the glow of positive publicity from the Palin endorsement, but must also deal with the fallout of popular Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s statement this week. He said voters should not support Cruz because the senator opposes subsidies for the state’s ethanol industry.
“That could kind of be a one-two punch against Cruz,” said Holmes, the University of Northern Iowa professor.