WASHINGTON – I love poetic justice. This wild and wacky Republican presidential campaign deserved Sarah Palin, and now it’s got her.
Palin’s endorsement of front-runner Donald Trump at an Iowa rally this week was a master class in surrealist poetry. Geniuses of the Dada movement would have been humbled by her deconstruction of the language and her obliteration of the bourgeois concept we call logic.
The GOP candidates have been competing to see who can spew the most nonsense, but they’ll never top Palin. Not when she offers gems such as this: “Believe me on this. And the proof of this? Look what’s happening today. Our own GOP machine, the establishment, they who would assemble the political landscape, they’re attacking their own front-runner. … They are so busted, the way that this thing works.”
Or this further excoriation of the party leadership: “And now, some of them even whispering, they’re ready to throw in for Hillary 1 / 8Clinton 3 / 8 over Trump because they can’t afford to see the status quo go. Otherwise, they won’t be able to be slurping off the gravy train that’s been feeding them all these years.”
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Or this elaboration of the same theme: “How ’bout the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter, clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God and our religions and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”
Or this exercise in random word choice: “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny. But now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his, uh, uh, uh, Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’”
Actually, I think the wailing from Republican grandees is more of a wordless primal scream. Palin claimed that “media heads are spinning” at her decision to campaign for Trump, but it would be more accurate to say that “media feet are dancing” at having such a rich source of new material.
I could quote Palin all day, but there are two substantive points about her dazzling intervention that I feel duty-bound to make. The first is political: Someday we might look back and say she was the one who pushed Trump over the top to win the nomination.
That’s not a promise, just a possibility. But Trump’s campaign draws strength from its own momentum. If he can somehow manage to sweep the early primary states, “outsider” support may coalesce behind him – and the establishment candidates may be too shell-shocked to effectively respond.
Polls show Trump holding big leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina. But first comes Iowa, where he’s running neck-and-neck with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Given his overall strength, Trump could finish second in the Iowa caucuses and still capture the nomination. A win there, however, could boost his support in the subsequent contests and make it much harder for anyone to stop him.
Enter Palin. Republicans whom she appalls or embarrasses are not likely to vote for Trump anyway. But some tea party supporters who are leaning toward Cruz might be swayed by a clarion call from their movement’s Evita. All Trump needs to do is shave a few points off Cruz’s vote to win a narrow victory, which could be enough to propel the populist billionaire to triumph in New Hampshire and beyond.
Here I must insert my standard disclaimer: Do not take as gospel anyone’s predictions this year, including mine.
The other substantive point I have to make about Palin has to do with a campaign speech she gave in Oklahoma for Trump the day after her endorsement. She was talking about the arrest of her son, Track, on domestic abuse charges after he allegedly fought with his girlfriend and threatened suicide by holding an assault rifle to his head.
“My son, a combat veteran … was fighting for you all, America, in the war zone,” Palin said. “My son, like so many others, came back a bit different, they come back hardened.”
Palin said not enough was done to treat the “woundedness” of returning veterans and charged that this failing “comes from our own President [Obama].”
Never mind that Track Palin served in Iraq and came home while George W. Bush was president. His mother was speaking for the large segment of the GOP base that brays against high taxes and big government, yet demands more services and opposes cuts in entitlements – which doesn’t add up.
I’ve said it before: With years of foolish rhetoric, the Republican establishment got itself into this mess. There may be no way out.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.