She praised Trump for disrupting the status quo: “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, okay?” And she termed the squabbles of the various Mideast factions “squirmishes,” a coinage of which Lewis Carroll would be proud, rivaling “refudiate” and “lamestream” for Palin’s best contributions to the language.
She’s irrelevant! the pundits cried, then rushed to file a million takes on what she means.
Remember the heights of Palin-mania? She went overnight from a popular governor with a moderate image to a right-wing martyr with a family worthy of a telenovela. After the 2008 election, which the GOP blamed her for losing, she quit the governorship, aligned herself with the Tea Party, and tantalized fans with a possible presidential run. When that didn’t happen, she gradually faded from view, hosting a reality show, losing her Fox News contract, and popping up every now and then to do something weird, like drinking from a Big Gulp onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference or stumbling through a speech in Iowa last year. When she said she might run for president this year, the press mostly shrugged—a testament to how far she’d fallen off the map.
At the time of Palin’s operatic rise and fall, she seemed like a one-off—an odd figure who would fade into justified obscurity. But seen through the lens of Trump’s rise, she appears shockingly prescient.
Like no one else before Trump, Palin saw a constituency on the right for a politics of resentment that sought as its champion a pure agent of chaos, unfettered by positive or substantive views. As David Frum has noted, Trump, like Palin, is playing to a populist, antiestablishment politics of white working-class cultural resentment. Like Palin, he’s insistent that conservatism is whatever he says it is. Like Palin, he’s less concerned with the abstraction of small government than with taking down the fat cats—the corrupt alliance of politicians, donors, and lobbyists.
Palin doesn’t get enough credit for pioneering this particular approach. She was railing against “crony capitalism”—“the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest, the little guys”—before practically anybody else on the right. “Do you want to know why the permanent political class doesn’t really want to cut any spending? Do you want to know why nothing ever really gets done?” she said in 2011. “It’s because there’s nothing in it for them. They’ve got a lot of mouths to feed—a lot of corporate lobbyists and a lot of special interests that are counting on them to keep the good times and the money rolling along.”
You can hear the echoes of this today from countless candidates. When Palin’s endorsement was announced on Tuesday, I happened to be in New Hampshire with Ted Cruz, where I heard him repeatedly denounce the “cronyism” of “the Washington cartel of career politicians in both parties who get in bed with lobbyists.” (Cruz, a Palin protégé who had hoped to get her nod, attempted to take the blow in stride, saying: “Sarah Palin is fantastic. Without her friendship and support I wouldn’t be in the Senate today.”)