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The ballad of Donald and Sarah

Sarah Palin endorsed the Republican presidential front-runner on Jan. 19, but their friendship was built over years. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

They came from outside the confines of politics as we know it — he from the flashy, fickle, hyperactive world of New York real estate, casino deals and reality TV and she from a frozen land north of the 49th parallel. They were self-proclaimed mavericks, speaking truth to power and rattling races for the White House. And as they sold their firebrand version of populism to admirers eager for something — anything — different, they were embraced by millions.

And, on Tuesday, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin officially joined forces.

“Are you ready for a commander in chief who will let our warriors do their job” and go fight the Islamic State? Palin said before a cheering crowd in Iowa. “Ready for someone who will secure our borders, to secure our jobs, and to secure our homes? Ready to make America great again? Are you ready to stump for Trump? I’m here to support the next president of the United States, Donald Trump!”

Trump was tickled.

“I am greatly honored to receive Sarah’s endorsement,” he said in a statement. “She is a friend, and a high-quality person whom I have great respect for. I am proud to have her support.”

[Palin’s endorsement the latest prize as Trump, Cruz battle for conservatives]

Though this moment seemed inevitable — indeed, telegraphed — it took some time to get here. For Palin to endorse Trump, Trump first had to endorse Palin. Which he did, way back in 2008.

“I think she’s made a tremendous impact,” Trump said while endorsing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president. “The impact that she has had on rejuvenating almost the Republican Party, it’s been unbelievable.”

Like many, Trump said he wasn’t too familiar with the governor of Alaska before McCain vaulted her to national prominence. But she didn’t need a second chance to make a first impression.

“As soon as we got to see her and watch her, everybody’s impressed,” Trump said. “That really is to John McCain’s credit. What he did in this choice is amazing. … It was a courageous choice.”

Palin, of course, was the choice that McCain, by some accounts, would live to regret. But as the tea party movement fueled interest in conservative candidates unwilling to bow to inside-the-Beltway politics-as-usual, the power of Planet Palin and Planet Trump grew stronger. And, eventually, their orbits aligned.

Sarah Palin joined Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Iowa to endorse his run for president on Tuesday, Jan. 19. (Video: Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

The moment of truth was, perhaps, when Palin supported Trump in his ultimately successful quest to have President Obama produce his birth certificate in 2011.

“Media: admit it, Trump forced the issue,” Palin tweeted, dismissing a Federal Reserve mews conference competing for reporters’ attention. “Now, don’t let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?”

Weeks later, Palin was sharing pizza with Trump in Manhattan.

“We talked about specific candidates and potential candidates, and kind of just what our perception was of each of these folks,” she said. “It was interesting. We’re kind of on the same page there.”

At the meeting, as CNN pointed out, it wasn’t clear which pizza-eater would actually be running for president. Indeed, Trump was asked if Palin had sought his support for a 2012 run.

“She didn’t ask me for that,” he said. “She came up as friends … She’s a great woman, a terrific woman and a terrific friend. I’d love her to run.”

Sadly for their supporters, 2012 came and went without a presidential bid from Palin or Trump. But after Mitt Romney — a Republican establishment candidate if there ever was one — lost to Obama, there seemed more room than ever for the civics of sharp elbows and salty retorts they practiced. Palin — by this time a reality TV star herself — and Trump moved closer.

[Sarah Palin’s son Track arrested at her home, girlfriend ‘concerned’ he ‘would shoot himself’]

In 2014, Palin spoke out for Trump after a BuzzFeed piece said Trump’s quixotic quest for the presidency was a “charade.”

“This nervous geek isn’t fit to tie the Donald’s wingtips,” Palin said of the piece’s author. “Don’t ever give him attention again.”

In February of last year, Palin floated the idea of a Palin-Trump ticket in a “Saturday Night Live” bit.

“Jerry, how much do you think Lorne Michaels would pay me if I were to run in 2016?” Palin said.

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

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

“Sarah,” Seinfeld said. “You’re teasing us. That’s not nice.”

[Sarah Palin joked about running with Trump almost a year ago]

What then was a joke now seems like a possibility. In July, after Palin passed up the chance to slam Trump for his criticism of McCain, Trump indicated that there would be room for Palin in a Trump administration.

“I’d love that because she really is somebody that knows what’s happening,” Trump said. “And she’s a special person. And I think people know that. And she’s got a following that’s unbelievable.”

This was a bigger point, however, than speculation about Palin as the secretary of whatever, or even Palin as veep. Trump also recognized that he and Palin were birds of a feather flocking ever-closer together.

“Like me, she’s got some people that don’t exactly love us,” Trump said in July. “And we understand who they are and you sort of forget about that. But she has a tremendously loyal group of people out there for her and I think now maybe more so than ever.”

The alliance grew as the Iowa caucuses approached. Palin slammed Trump-haters in Breitbart. Trump hired a former Palin aide as his political director. Palin threw Trump softballs when she guest-hosted a political talk show. By Thanksgiving, Palin was calling a Trump presidency “a very real possibility.”

And, in the Hawkeye State on Tuesday, it all came together.

“This is a woman that, from day one, I said, ‘If I ever do this I have to get her support,'” Trump said. “She feels it. She understands it better than anybody.”

What Palin may understand better than anyone in the Trump camp is Iowa, which goes to the polls in less than two weeks.

“Over the years Palin has actually cultivated a number of relationships in Iowa,” Craig Robinson, the former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa and editor of the website the Iowa Republican, told the New York Times. He added: “There are the Tea Party activists who still think she’s great and a breath of fresh air, but she also did a good job of courting Republican donors in the state.”

What remains to be seen is whether Palin’s support will be enough to propel Trump to the White House. After all, she’s helped lose a race like this before.

“As unlikely as it may once have seemed, Trump has won over a significant chunk of Palin’s fan base,” Jim Geraghty wrote in the National Review in September. “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.”