Before Trump there was Palin.
At first glance, the brash Manhattan billionaire bears little resemblance to the moose-hunting former Alaska governor who energized John McCain’s candidacy eight years ago.
But the populist revolt rocking our nation traces directly to the announcement of an obscure but exciting VP pick on August 29, 2008.
Palin lit the torch.
Trump ran with it.
Even Barack Obama observed the symmetry, telling New York Magazine in October: ”I see a straight line between Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.”
Thanks for noticing, Mr. President.
Indeed, throughout the fall of 2008, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin electrified huge crowds, inspired frenetic opposition, and delivered verbal body blows to a clueless political establishment.
For the last 18 months, Trump perfected the Palin model: Shoot first, watch the media derangement follow.
Like Palin before him, Trump has reveled in his role as a walking middle finger to career politicians, establishment media and coastal high society –even as a card-carrying member of that high society.
Palin’s small-town values
During her stirring VP run and subsequent nationwide tours, Palin exposed the hypocrisy of elites in both parties who made promises to working-class Americans to get their votes, but never seemed to get around to following through on all the big talk.
As Palin put it in her epic RNC acceptance speech: “We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.”
Ironically, eight years later, WikiLeaks would reveal that Hillary Clinton held public – and private– positions on important issues, including energy development and border security. As Palin might say: Hillary had a Scranton position and a San Francisco position – on everything.
Is it any wonder Trump won Pennsylvania?
Palin pointed the way.
She also signaled a path in Michigan.
While the Obama juggernaut rolled on during that fateful autumn in 2008, Palin famously went rogue, plotting a midnight trip across the Michigan border to campaign for the hockey vote – but instead incurred the eternal wrath of McCain’s inner circle.
Palin’s instincts proved to be Trump’s blueprint.
When the Blue Wall fell spectacularly on election night 2016, Michigan went rougè for the first time in three decades.
You could almost hear Palin’s reverberating RNC plea: Don’t neglect the people who built this country: the farmers, the steelworkers, the teachers, the machinists, the coal miners, the small-business owners, the veterans … and the non-elites in “flyover” land.
The wife of a union member and self-described “hockey mom,” Palin struck a nerve with ordinary Americans who felt abandoned by their government, and their so-called representatives.
Palin was one of us– and voiced our concerns – before the blue-collar billionaire picked up her bull horn.
The 8-Year Journey
I’ll never forget standing in line to see Sarah Palin speak in Salina, Kansas in 2010. On a bitterly cold winter evening, the line to see Sarah stretched on for blocks. This scene was repeated in small towns across America for the better part of two years.
An older Republican woman confessed: “I’d vote for Sarah even if she were a Democrat,” before wistfully adding, “But I don’t think they’ll let her win.”
Even Kansas grandmothers know the system is rigged!
It’s too bad. After all, Palin was the grassroots post-partisan reformer the media types always say they’re looking for – the same media types that mocked Palin mercilessly from the get go. They strangely overlooked that Palin took on her own party in Alaska, unseating an ethically-challenged incumbent – something Obama and all his community organizing never did in corrupt Chicago.
Palin famously jabbed a finger in the eye of Alaska’s Big Oil special interests. She promoted more open and fair competition – for the betterment of all Alaskans.
Just as Trump now has promised to drain the swamp and protect workers from a rigged economy, Palin always championed the little guy – and threatened the established order.
That’s why she enjoyed a nearly 90% approval rating in Alaska when she was tapped for VP – garnering support from across the political spectrum. It was never solely about ideology for Palin, but about working for the common good.
Not surprisingly, the established order recognized the Palin threat – and responded in kind.
The media downplayed the story when vandals firebombed Palin’s Wasilla church shortly after her 2008 campaign. Some hate crimes are less hateful than others, apparently.
That same month, as Palin returned to her governorship, national reporters and Democrat operatives paralyzed her administration with frivolous FOIA requests. The small handful of Alaska state attorneys neglected state business to vet requested documents and emails.
In the ensuing months, the Palins also faced personal bankruptcy as Democrats associated with Obama’s field operation filed an avalanche of partisan lawsuits to bury Palin’s governorship.
So, in August 2009, she resigned.
Which was the right call for the smooth running of Alaska state government and the prevention of the Palin family’s financial ruin. But it only added more fodder to the fiery opposition against her. To the dismay of her army of loyalists, Palin declined to run for president in 2012 – despite her vital role in Republicans retaking the House in 2010.
While the middle-class Palin fought the establishment with grit, Trump had his billions. And it turns out that’s exactly what it took to win an insurgent campaign – a billionaire with blue-collar sensibilities. Any other outsider candidate likely would have been killed off by Jeb Bush and his millions in negative ads – or appropriated by the donor class. We likely would have had a Bush or a Clinton preparing to re-enter the White House next month!
If only we could have listened in on that infamous pizza lunch date between Palin and Trump in New York City in June of 2011 – the knife-and-fork affair that inspired the original #Pizzagate. What was said? Did Palin urge Trump to run for president in their meeting – just one month after Obama excoriated him at the Washington correspondent’s dinner? Did Trump ask Palin for advice? We may never know.
In the end, while speculation continues about Palin’s potential role in a Trump administration, Palin continually reminds that “you don’t need a title to make a difference.” She’s found her way – and as usual, it’s non-conventional.
In backing Trump in 2016 over more traditionally conservative candidates – including Ted Cruz, whom she campaigned for in 2012, it felt like she was passing the torch. The woman who inspired a generation of citizen conservatives and Tea Party activists – and who, before Trump’s Twitter feed became must-read, used Facebook to bypass the lamestream press – was seeing a fulfillment of her vision:
A president beholden to no special interest but We the People.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen Palin urge Trump to resist playing favorites in the marketplace, and she seems perfectly comfortable in her independence – the place she’s always been. She knows that after eight fierce years of battle, her principles – and her constituency – are winning.
It’s a different kind of politics — by the people — and it’s sweeping the globe.
Vindication must feel sweet.
For Palin, revenge on her detractors will be a dish served up on January 20, 2017. And, does anyone have a weather forecast? I’m guessing it will be cold.