Politics & Policy

Donald Trump & Sarah Palin: the Oddest of Political Couples

Trump and Palin outside Trump Tower in May 2011. (Andrew Burton/Getty)

‘Jerry, how much do you think Lorne Michaels would pay me if I were to run in 2016?” Sarah Palin asked Jerry Seinfeld in a skit that aired as part of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special in February.

“Run for president? Sarah, I don’t think there’s a number too big,” Seinfeld responded.

“Hypothetically, then, what if I were to choose Donald Trump as my running mate?” Palin continued.

“Sarah, you’re teasing us, that’s not nice!” Seinfeld responded in mock indignation.

Eight months ago, the idea of Donald Trump appearing on a GOP presidential ticket was literally the punchline of a joke. Today, Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, and arguably the field’s most natural successor to Palin, who has enthusiastically aided his campaign.

It’s hard to imagine a more improbable alliance. The first decades of Trump and Palin’s lives couldn’t have been more different.

It’s hard to imagine a more improbable alliance. The first decades of Trump and Palin’s lives couldn’t have been more different. The Christian social conservatism that drives Palin is at best a perfunctory afterthought for Trump. She began her political career driven by outrage at a group of self-interested Alaska politicians who called themselves the “corrupt bastards club”; Trump brags about his ability to get what he wants from politicians in exchange for donations. And it seems likely the pair don’t quite align in their views of popular culture. Palin’s daughter Bristol ripped Miley Cyrus as an example of pop stars who proclaim tolerance while showing contempt for Christians; Trump reportedly told Cyrus he “loved” her provocative performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. 

But both have starred in reality shows, both are used to crushing media attention, and both pitch themselves as the voice of a new silent majority ignored, mocked, and demonized by hostile media and political elites.

RELATED: Candidate Trump Will Soon Become One of the ‘Losers’ He Constantly Mocks

“I’ve said it since the day he made the sacrifice to hit the campaign trail: Voters crave the anti-status quo politician,” Palin said in the introduction to her interview with Trump on the One America News network in August. “They need a fighter. They need someone to fire all those political correct [sic] police. . . . Everything about Donald Trump’s campaign [is] avant-garde and he is crushing it in the polls.”

When Trump was mocked for refusing to name his favorite Bible verse because it’s “too personal” and answering “probably equal” when asked whether he was “an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy,” Palin — who has a book of devotionals and Bible verses coming out in November — mounted a vigorous argument that asking presidential candidates about their religious faith should be out-of-bounds.

RELATED: Donald Trump Is a Yuuuuuuuge Wuss

By September, Palin was appearing alongside Trump and Ted Cruz at a Capitol Hill rally against the Obama administration’s Iran deal. Palin’s apparent closeness with Trump left some other voices on the right baffled.

“I saw a clip of her talking to Donald Trump — what the hell is that?” asked Glenn Beck the day after the rally. “I don’t even know who she is any more. I don’t know what she cares for. I don’t know.” (Beck later retracted some of his remarks, saying it was “unkind, it was childish, and it was wrong of me to name-call,” though he was still baffled by “her opinion of [Trump], and [the fact] that she agree[s] with him and backs him as hard as she does.”)

#share#So far, Palin hasn’t endorsed anyone in the GOP presidential primary; in recent weeks, she’s praised Trump, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich on her Facebook page. But Trump and Palin indisputably enjoy mutual admiration. Trump said he would love to have Palin in his cabinet, and in an interview with CNN she volunteered to serve as his Energy Secretary.

When Palin burst onto the scene in 2008, establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives alike believed they had found a figure who would play an outsize role in shaping the future of the party. Her faults — a seeming inability to name any newspapers or magazines she reads, a lack of familiarity with national issues — all appeared easy to overcome in time. After all, she had a near-photographic memory.

The same ingredients that fuel Palin’s continued fame are driving the Trump campaign.

But after the 2008 campaign, Palin showed little interest in developing the kind of wonkish policy fluency that Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio are demonstrating these days. Palin chose to become a media personality instead, exiting the governor’s office and starring in a series of reality television shows, and commercials where she plays a red-white-and-blue–​booted hitchhiker.

The same ingredients that fuel Palin’s continued fame are driving the Trump campaign: Frequent fights with other high-profile media figures, often played out on Facebook and Twitter; Unpredictable, stream-of-consciousness speeches; and a theatrical flair that turns nearly every public appearance into an event, with the potential for something shocking, funny, or memorable to transpire as soon as the cameras start rolling.

RELATED: In The Art of the Deal, Trump Shows His Soft Side

At a time when interviews with Hillary Clinton are only slightly less rare than Blood Moons, Trump does speaks to reporters non-stop, and he sets off a new bomb every few days. No gaffe or controversial remark does too much damage, because within 48 hours it’s been replaced by another one.

#related#The good news for Trump is that this style succeeds better than any other at getting the spotlight and keeping it. The bad news is that there’s not much evidence that it alone will lead him to the Republican presidential nomination. Palin didn’t run in 2012, and while her most ardent fans will insist that she would have won if she’d entered the race, the facts say otherwise.

By April 2011, CNN found just 12 percent of Republicans saying Palin was their first choice for president; 53 percent of Republicans wanted Palin to run, 47 percent didn’t. Similar polls in the summer of 2011 found about a quarter of Republicans saying they would “enthusiastically” vote for Palin — in the neighborhood of Trump’s support in the GOP electorate right now.

As unlikely as it may once have seemed, Trump has won over a significant chunk of Palin’s fan base. It’s an achievement many other Republican candidates probably envy. But it’s far from proven that the path to media stardom also leads to the Oval Office.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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