Sarah Palin, now running for Congress, helped create the GOP’s culture war circus

Sarah Palin, now running for Congress, helped create the GOP’s culture war circus

On Friday, April 1, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced that she is running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat once held by the late Rep. Don Young, who died on March 18 at 88 — and two days later, former President Donald Trump announced that he is endorsing her. Palin’s campaign for Alaska’s lone congressional seat comes at a time when far-right culture war politics and pseudo-populism are the norm in the Trumpified Republican Party, and her influence on the GOP is one of the things discussed in an early April article by Politico reporter David Siders.

Trump, announcing his endorsement of Palin, wrote, “Sarah shocked many when she endorsed me very early in 2016, and we won big. Now it’s my turn!”

Palin’s congressional campaign marks the first time she has run for office since 2008, when Sen. John McCain won the GOP presidential nomination and picked Palin as his running mate.

Trump, in his endorsement, wrote, “Sarah lifted the McCain presidential campaign out of the dumps despite the fact that she had to endure some very evil, stupid, and jealous people within the campaign itself. They were out to destroy her, but she didn’t let that happen. I am proud to give her my Complete and Total Endorsement, and encourage all Republicans to united behind this wonderful person and her campaign to put America First!”

Young was a fixture in Alaska politics. First elected to the U.S. House in 1973, he was reelected countless times.

When McCain choose Palin in 2008, it came as a shock because she was much different from the Arizona senator. McCain, a self-described “Goldwater Republican,” was a traditional conservative rather than a far-right culture warrior — and his first choice for a running mate was former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. But Republican strategists convinced him that Ridge was too moderate for the GOP base, and he agreed to choose Palin — who was everything McCain wasn’t: snarky, bitter, divisive, petty and mean-spirited.

Palin, now 58, brought an us-versus-them mentality to the ticket. In other words, she brought a Trump-like element to the 2008 race eight years before Trump’s 2016 campaign. And she did fire up the Republican base in 2008, although President Barack Obama won the general election — picking up 365 electoral votes and defeating McCain by 7%.

“Palin had been one of the GOP’s original populists — mocked when John McCain made her his running mate in 2008, then relegated to the periphery of conservative politics, unpopular even in her home state,” Siders explains in his Politico article. “Now, after Donald Trump mainstreamed her brand of outrage, she is running for public office again, testing the limits of a damaged politician’s rehabilitation in a party that looks nothing like the one she belonged to when she first burst onto the national stage.”

Cynthia Henry, GOP committeewoman in Alaska, didn’t expect Palin to enter the congressional race.

Henry told Politico, “There had been speculation, but I was surprised. She will certainly be a contender. Beyond that.… I don’t know how it will be received…. She hasn’t been active in politics since the run for vice president and her service as governor. She hasn’t been involved, or I haven’t seen her at events.”

Siders notes that Palin is “no shoo-in,” pointing out that “her reputation deteriorated after she resigned from the governorship in 2009 — a self-inflicted wound from which she has not seemed to recover.”

Pollster Ivan Moore, who is with Alaska Survey Research, told Politico, “Let’s face it: She has been substantively underwater for many, many years now, and it really dates back to when she quit…. Alaskans weren’t very impressed with that.”

A political strategist, quoted anonymously, told Politico that Palin is “certainly the favorite, just because everyone knows her” but added, “People still remember her quitting.… It’s not a slam dunk.”

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