“She Was Obviously Onto Something”



I wrote the following in November 2015 as an introduction to a report about Donald Trump’s bizarre attacks on Ben Carson, who was then his closest competitor and now is his HUD Secretary:

Considering the poll numbers of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, we all owe Sarah Palin an apology, don’t you think? 

You remember Sarah Palin, right? She was a bear-meat peddler who briefly governed the petro-socialist state of Alaska. I think she once hired a hit man to kill a rival cheerleader. Okay, I’m not sure about that part. That might have been the plot of a Lifetime movie I watched once in an airport lounge. But it still brings her to mind, doesn’t it?

I can still recall those halcyon days of 2008 when a Sarah Palin took the stage at the Republican National Convention and won the hearts and minds of those Caucasian Americans who were waiting for a spiteful poseur to express their grievances in a pre-Duck Dynasty version of a Maoist “Speak Bitterness” meeting. Scrutiny did not become her, however, and Palin was eventually voted off the island due to her sheer idiocy and meanness, exiled to Elba or Arizona or somewhere. Now she’s merely a hologram of hate, activated occasionally in her camera-filled basement.

Those incredibly unfair standards of basic competency, decency and honesty are no longer with us less than a decade later, so on behalf of everyone, I’ll offer a mea culpa: Sorry, you horrible person, that you aren’t the dangerously unprepared nutbag to capture the imagination of white nationalist half-wits this time around. Take solace in knowing that this year’s models and their overt bigotry have served to redeem you from the absolute worst to almost the absolute worst, the way you once managed to make Dan Quayle seem interchangeable with Thomas Jefferson. You wore your simple mind on your sleeve but at least not on your hat.•

More on the Palin-Trump continuum from Ana Marie Cox’s smart NYT Magazine Q&A with Nicole Wallace:


What do you think it’s like working at the White House right now? 

Nicole Wallace:

There’s a pretty high level of alarm based on how easy it is to get people to talk about what’s actually happening inside the White House, and you never know the whole story. As chaotic and dysfunctional as it looks from the outside, from my experience with Sarah Palin, I know what’s known and discussed publicly is usually just the tip of the iceberg.


Do you think we still know only the tip of the iceberg with Palin? 

Nicole Wallace:

Well, what I think was unknown was the degree of her rejection of us asking her to do anything that wasn’t her own idea. We were dealing with someone who was maybe ahead of her time. Her irreverence and disdain for the establishment of her own party and her embrace of the ‘‘isms’’ — nativism, isolationism, you know — she blew the walls out on the political norms before Donald Trump did. She was obviously onto something. She had crowds five times the size of McCain’s. We think it was all about her political skills, but it was also about her message. She railed against the mainstream media, she attacked all of us, her own advisers. That her audiences were so enthusiastic about that was the early signal that the party had changed.•