Sarah Palin has re-emerged onto the national political scene to endorse Donald Trump.
Well, this closes a big circle and explains how we got to this point.
Palin’s first big speech on the national stage — the one she gave when she accepted the Republican nomination for vice-president — was carefully modulated, populist without being screechy, and sharply critical of Obama without being harsh or angry.
Her speech yesterday endorsing Trump was pretty much the opposite: rambling, pandering, chock full of empty catchphrases, combative, and screechy — I mean literally screechy, as in the grating quality of her voice, which was apparently her way of showing enthusiasm.
Here’s the kind of obvious, amateurish pandering I’m talking about, as when she addressed the audience thus: “Looking around at all of you, you hard-working Iowa families. You farm families, and teachers, and teamsters, and cops, and cooks. You rock-and-rollers. And holy rollers! All of you who work so hard. You full-time moms. You with the hands that rock the cradle. You all make the world go round, and now our cause is one.” A Hollywood screenwriter producing a caricature of a right-wing populist would not dare to write this stuff.
Then there were the outright howlers, like when she hailed Trump as being “from the private sector … where … you actually have to balance budgets” and as someone who “doesn’t get his power…off of…other people’s money.” This — about a man who is famous for using bankruptcy to slough off bad debts. The phrase “other people’s money” was coined specifically to refer to the kind of financial arrangements that Trump specializes in.
Palin went on to denounce crony capitalism, while endorsing a man who boasts about buying politicians. She hailed his agenda as “pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, strict constitutionality,” all issues where he has long been on the other side. Then there’s the fact that she talked about Trump being hawkish and standing up to our enemies overseas, then diverted her speech to specifically endorse Rand Paul, the libertarian anti-interventionist, on foreign policy. Some hawkishness.
But that’s what shows us how we got here. You will look in vain in this endorsement speech for any kind of ideological substance or coherence. Instead, here is the real essence of Palin’s endorsement, in two sentences.
Mr. Trump, you’re right. Look back there in the press box. Heads are spinning, media heads are spinning. This is going to be so much fun.
Trump, what he’s been able to do, which is really ticking people off, which I’m glad about, he’s going rogue left and right, man, that’s why he’s doing so well.
Plenty of people have observed before that Trump’s candidacy is based on media celebrity. This endorsement speech reminds us that it’s a variety of media celebrity that people like Palin perfected. It’s a kind of political celebrity that is light on ideological substance or coherence and heavy on “ticking people off” and “making media heads spin.”
From Palin to Trump, How We Got Here
How did we get from Sarah Palin in 2008 to Donald Trump in 2016? Because the Right has been tempted to sell its soul by putting personality over principle and emotion over reason. We have been tempted into embracing as our leaders and spokesmen a series of media personalities whose main selling point is that they are outrageous and controversial and like to stick a finger in they eye of the Mainstream Media and infuriate “the Establishment” and the “PC Left.”
All of which is well and good, if it is in pursuit of a coherent pro-freedom ideology, by which I mean a coherent view of the world and of the role of government as embodied in a broad and consistent political agenda. That’s what Rush Limbaugh used to do.
But when we embrace these media personalities, the danger is that we will end up just having the outrageous and flamboyant personality, without the coherent ideology.
We’ve been flirting with that for years, with characters like Ann Coulter — who is so ideologically consistent she has gone from endorsing Mitt Romney to endorsing Donald Trump, and in fact endorsed a Trump-Romney ticket, which is the very essence of ideological incoherence.
Palin, in retrospect, was just another step in this process. When she first came on the scene, she was viciously attacked by the mainstream media, and the more she was attacked, the more the “base” of the Right loved her. But this partisan interest blinded a lot of people to her real faults as a candidate, particularly the fact that she was ill-informed on some of the big issues. What stood out for me in her first big mainstream media interview with Katie Couric was when she was asked what Supreme Court ruling she would most like to overturn. Couric was probably fishing for Roe v. Wade, but instead Palin simply drew a blank. And this was shortly after Kelo v. New London, the ruling that knocked down any reasonable limits on the taking of private property under eminent domain. Any ideological conservative would have that answer on the tip of their tongue, and Palin didn’t.
Which makes it extra fitting, by the way, that she is now endorsing Trump, a master at the abuse of eminent domain to take other people’s property.
As I argued back in 2008, what Palin really stood for in people’s minds was a kind of cultural populism, which denounces Hollywood and the Mainstream Media in the same way Bernie Sanders rails against Wall Street and billionaires. Which is fine as far as it goes. But without ideological substance, it just means defining yourself negatively: I am against whatever the Mainstream Media is for. And if you let yourself be defined that way, you will end up looking for someone whose sole recommendation is that he says outrageous things that offend people.
It’s no wonder that a bunch of these fading “outrageous personality” types have come out in favor of Trump, so much so that Trump is being hailed as the man who saved talk radio. I don’t think the better talk radio hosts needed much saving, by the way. But the second-raters whose only shtick was “being outrageous”? They sure did. And Trump has energized them because his whole campaign is modeled on their approach.
We’ll see whether this is any way to win an election. I think there’s good reason to believe that it isn’t. Trump has enjoyed 10-to-1 dominance in free media coverage — one of the contradictions of Palin’s speech is in thinking that she and Trump are enemies of the media when they are, to a large extent, creations of the media — yet he claims support of only one-third of Republicans in the polls. It remains to be seen how much of that support will translate into actual votes.
But at least now we know how we got here. Trump is the price we’re paying for Palin and Coulter and for every other media celebrity on the Right who made a career out of being “outrageous” rather than being ideological coherent.
This is what we get for putting personality over ideology. The first commandment of the Right should be, “Place not thy faith in politicians.” The second commandment should be, “Place not thy faith in media celebrities.”