A point of speculation since Donald Trump hinted at an endorsement two days ago, this afternoon, the New York Times and other media outlets are confirming that former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin will endorse Donald Trump’s outsider bid for the Presidency. Palin, a champion of the same “grassroots” and “Tea Party” activism that has fueled the anti-establishment message embodied by the Trump campaign, was an outside-the-box choice for Vice President by John McCain in 2008. Lionized as a champion of Republican womanhood on the right and derided as a rube by the left, Palin was nothing if not a media sensation. Even after resigning as Governor of Alaska, Palin has maintained a considerable amount of influence among the conservative activist population.
On January 19, Palin announced that she would be endorsing Donald Trump in Iowa less than two weeks before the first in the nation caucus. While Trump and Palin both currently occupy the “outside the mainstream of the GOP” lane, there was speculation early in the 2016 contest that Palin would either withhold an endorsement or endorse Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Palin was a major supporter of Cruz in his 2010 bid for the Senate as a Tea Party conservative. However, in recent weeks, given the close polling in Iowa and the concerns raised by Trump about Cruz’s honesty and credibility, it appears that Palin has decided to firmly throw her clout behind Trump.
To those in the establishment wing of the Republican Party the response is a hearty guffaw and a reminder that Trump won’t win. While these predictions appear to be citing fewer and fewer polls to support them, the analysis here is that Palin won’t make much of a difference for Trump in Iowa and that she has limited appeal to swing voters.
It remains to be seen what, if any, effect Palin will have on the race and whether her endorsement will coax voters away from supporting Cruz. The larger impact may not be in Iowa, but rather in the Super Tuesday contests in the South where Palin’s brand of populist conservatism is a strong motivator. Trump’s plan may not be to convince Cruz’s supporters to come over to Trump’s side, but rather to stymie any attrition from Trump’s team to Cruz’s based on Cruz’s apparent conservatism. Moreover, considering the foundering of Ben Carson’s campaign, there is still between 5 and 15% of the electorate in Iowa and beyond that will likely be choosing on whether to support Trump or Cruz.
Another positive for Trump in securing Palin’s endorsement is that it shows that there are at least some Republican forces that support him. Clearly, Trump is losing to all of the other GOP candidates in the endorsement game. While Trump has repeatedly claimed that endorsements are meaningless, having individuals with national prominence vouch for you is not a bad thing. Additionally, per Trump’s clear branding initiative, this endorsement should keep Trump in control of the headlines for at least the next 48 hours.
Ted Cruz got more bad news in Iowa today when four-term Governor (and definition of Republican establishment in the Hawkeye State) Terry Branstad urged voters to vote against Cruz. While Branstad did not endorse a candidate, the popular Governor’s rejection of the Texas Senator is jarring.
While Cruz still has another debate next week and the opportunity to recover some of his footing, he is squarely on the defensive in Iowa. Given that Cruz has made it a theme of his campaign to avoid criticizing Trump in order to hopefully benefit from a Trump implosion, there is a sense that the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost on a very bad political calculation. Cruz, without sufficient ammunition to counter Trump (aside from a claim that Trump is part of the establishment?!), looks caught. While polling still looks favorable for a Cruz win in Iowa, if he can’t fix his media portrayal in the first in the nation caucus state, he could wind up losing to Trump (and therein beginneth the cascade).