By Mitchell Blatt*
Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump a few days ago, culminating a journey that began shortly after her ticket lost the 2008 presidential election. Conservatives that had been supporting or defending her for eight years finally broke with her when she broke with conservatism.
It wasn’t hard to see it would happen. Trump and Palin had a pizza summit together in 2011. Palin did a painfully fawning interview with Trump in 2015. Palin’s speaking skills and logical arguments had long been dumbed down. It may be they got even worse as she increasingly tried to create a celebrity brand for herself, or that Republicans overlooked some of her flaws when she was running for VP, but it was probably some of both.
At any rate, Politibunny, a grassroots conservative with 58,200 followers on Twitter, has had enough.
Said no sane or even mildly coherent conservative… ever. https://t.co/B6xUn3D4o4 Sarah Sarah Sarah. smh
— TheFOO (@PolitiBunny) January 21, 2016
In a longer post on her blog, she said,
So I guess this is good luck with the Trump show because I, like many of your defenders and supporters, am done with you.
Many professional conservative pundits and intellectuals have already broken with her. Few of them liked Trump in the first place. With the Palin endorsement, it’s all coming together. Grassroots are losing respect for Palin, and conservatives from all sides of the movement are trying to stave off Trump. A new issue of National Review is dedicated entirely to being “Against Trump.”
The diverse lineup of contributors includes think tankers like David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, and Yuval Levin, founding editor of National Affairs and Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, social conservatives, like L. Brent Bozell III, founder of the Media Research Center and board member of the Catholic League, media entreprenuers like Ben Domenech, founder and editor of The Federalist (which I contribute to), neo-conservatives, like The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, mainstream conservative newspaper journalists like Cal Thomas, and conservative pundits associated with the grassroots, like Dana Loesch and Glenn Beck. In short, if conservatives who disagree on many things can agree on anything, it is that Donald Trump is not conservative, nor would he make a good president.
Now we are starting to see that idea expressed from some the outlets that grudgingly gave him a little bit of respect early on. Red State at times seemed like some of its writers liked Trump’s aggressive “fighting” style, but now they have been prominently featuring a number of posts critical of Trump recently. Caleb Howe says, “Dana Loesch Absolutely SHREDS Donald Trump Over Conservative Credibility.”
(Despite Red State founder Erick Erickson having disinivted Trump from his forum after he invoked Megyn Kelly’s gender in an attack, Erickson called Trump’s plan to ban Muslims “a brilliant move” in December. Now Erickson has written a piece Against Trump in the issue.)
In McCay Coppins’ book, The Wilderness, Coppins evoked the day of the Iowa Freedom Summit almost exactly one year from today, on January 24, 2015, when all the reporters were watching Sarah Palin’s arrival in the lobby the night before in awe, and then watched her bomb the next day, the same day Trump gave a speech. Much like her terrible speech two days ago, conservatives responded by criticizing her, and she lost some of the few remaining professional conservative fans she once had. Matt Lewis wrote “You Betcha I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin” in The Daily Beast, and the Washington Post summarizes how other columnists like Kathleen Parker and Byron York critiqued her. Since then, it has been Palin down and Trump up. She just grabbed on for the ride.
My journey following Palin’s career started in college–I was a columnist on the editorial board of the Indiana Daily Student my freshman year, 2008–and has developed along with my thinking and my career (some of these thoughts are included in unpublished attempts).
“Hillary Clinton’s campaign complained about sexism in the media… and we are seeing now just how right she was,” wrote Mitchell Blatt in his blog on media bias. “Not only are the networks trying to drag this story out, they are also saying Palin is neglecting her children by running for vice president.
(Also quoted in a research paper.)
By the time Palin quit her job as governor, I wrote a post on my then-blog saying “good riddance.” If only.
I had identified some things about her speaking style that are now standard fare for Trump–particularly her (and now his) focus on cultural identity issues over substance and policies. They want to play to some kind of anti-government, anti-intellectual, anti-culture people. When Palin gave a speech adopting grievances against Michelle Obama for promoting healthy lunches and raised a Big Gulp to oppose Michael Bloomberg’s anti-Big Gulp initiative, I thought it was a stupid appeal to Big Gulp obsessives.
Conservatives on this and some other issues they highlight like to say the government shouldn’t choose for people. Sure. But if people choose for themselves, they ought not embrace unhealthy lifestyle, I wrote in an article I pitched:
Obesity is a problem that should concern Palin. She may think that we should have the right to choose any size soda we want, but as a pro-lifer, she should be concerned about people making more life-affirming choices.
In 2010, Palin said she opposed legalization of marijuana. “I think that would just encourage especially our young people to think that it was OK to just go ahead and use it,” she said.
So she’s probably not going to roll a joint at her next speech. If she’s looking for a gimmick, here’s an idea: hold up a cup of fruit.
Palin and Trump (and Cruz) both preach populism. “YOU”–you, the under-educated and uncultured who doesn’t know anything about health, economics, or science–“YOU are the best person to make a decision on whether the Federal Reserve should raise interest rates!!!” Ah, but he doesn’t even say “Fed” (Rand Paul does) because his audience doesn’t know about that. He just says impose a 45 percent tax on imports and then all the jobs will come to America.
One of Palin and Cruz’s favorite lines is “the American people,” as if there is any other people they would be referring, to, but such a populist-sounding phrase is meant to make We The People, the legitimate governors of ourselves, feel special.
This, I identified as being a trait that also belonged to Cruz:
If there’s one group of people Ted Cruz tries to appeal to more than any other it’s the American people. He mentioned the words “the American people” over 200 times in his 21 hour speech against Obamacare.
Here I also identified (in another unpublished piece) the fact that these populists readily exclude anyone who disagrees with them:
But there are a lot of Americans who aren’t part of this mythical “American people.” For starters, if you support Obamacare, you apparently aren’t an American person, nor are you an American person if you want to ban semiautomatic assault riffles or if you work in Washington, DC for a political organization. Then you are a “Washington insider.”
But I was wrong in two ways. First, the phrase is “RINO.” Second, you get labeled it more for your personality/preferences than your policies. Thus Marco Rubio and his supporters are “RINOs” even though he has a 94% conservative rating with no less a hard right activist group than Heritage Action. Now all of the contributors to National Review’s “Against Trump” are “RINOs” even though they took the Republican/conservative side of the argument.
But, still, I was right that the tag was a cultural thing:
The rise of Ted Cruz is the culmination of a trend in Tea Party politics dividing of America into simplistic identity bubbles until only one identity group remains as real Americans. When Cruz speaks of “the American people,” he is referring to conservatives living in idealized rural and suburban towns that vote Republican–or, as Sarah Palin referred to such areas during the 2008 presidential campaign, “the Real America.”
The Tea Party’s focus on identity politics is destructive not just to the country but to the Tea Party itself. Stereotyping and dividing hurts our cohesiveness as a nation. Moreover, it hurts the Tea Party’s ability to attract new converts to the conservative movement.
Most Americans do not fit into the Tea Party’s idea of the perfect American. 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. 66 percent of American households do not own a gun, and that rate has increased for the past four decades. Americans are going to church less frequently and questioning the existence of God in growing numbers.
How can the Republican Party expect to attract new voters when they are targeting their message to such a narrowly defined category of people?
Cruz actually tried such an identity appeal against Trump at the most recent debate, attacking him for “New York values.” Remember the 2013 Virginia Governor’s race?
The conservative group Fight For Tomorrow just put out an ad there warning that liberal boogeymen like “the elite media,” “Wall Street liberals,” and “Hollywood partisans,” are supporting the Democratic candidate, “New Yorker” Terry McAullife.
As for Cruz, he actually is a conservative–very conservative–and intellectually smart, for that matter, with two Ivy League degrees–but he uses these kind of populist tactics. (I address the situation here: The Tragedy of Ted Cruz.)
What am I getting at? Conservatives should have been able to see it coming. Cruz is an example, however, of how a lot of the populist tactics have meshed with conservatism. Early on in the Tea Party movement, a lot of the populist-sounding people really were conservatives. But somewhere along the line, the conservatism detached from the populism.
In the next week, Bombs and Dollars will join National Review in being Against Trump, and others will post their arguments. At the end of the day, this is a fight that is presently happening within the conservative movement, but it’s a fight for America. If we stop Trump in the Republican primaries, we won’t have to fear a general election with a neo-fascist on the ballot.
About the author:
*Mitchell Blatt moved to China in 2012, and since then he has traveled and written about politics and culture throughout Asia. A writer and journalist, based in China, he is the lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook and a contributor to outlets including The Federalist, China.org.cn, The Daily Caller, and Vagabond Journey. Fluent in Chinese, he has lived and traveled in Asia for three years, blogging about his travels at ChinaTravelWriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchBlatt.
This article was published by Bombs and Dollars.