On Tuesday morning, the will-she, won't-she speculation force was strong. Very strong. And now, the political union is official.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, has endorsed Donald Trump, the New York real estate magnate who has defied all sorts of odds and expectations this campaign cycle. But he's in trouble in Iowa. And now, he's turned to a tried-and-true election strategy to try to resolve his problem: the well-timed endorsement.
Now, most political observers would agree that Palin's political star has dimmed, even in the conservative high heavens. But a Palin endorsement still has meaning.
She has her own reality TV show following, those who admire her personal values, her family, her pastimes and, especially, those demonstrated weaponry skills. And there are those who still love and maybe even miss the way that Palin, perhaps better than any conservative in recent memory, got about and kept about the business of making a suspicious other out of President Obama -- and, sometimes, his supporters.
Let's be clear: Palin has spent plenty of her time on the national stage saying or suggesting just the sort of thing that Trump has on the campaign trail about Obama, about ethnic or religious groups, about people with leftist politics -- about anyone Palin regarded as not like her. But where Trump says these things bluntly and brusquely and appears -- to the shock and awe of many a political consultant, reporter and commentator -- to keep gaining voters as a result, Palin's style is a little different.
She often says Trump-ian things about various groups she considers others in a way that is somehow biting and yet deniable. The Palin way is to insinuate and to allege using various Palinisms. The Palin way is to vilify based most often on who people are or what they believe, then characterize those very things as somehow dangerous, un-American and unacceptable. Those abilities -- or perhaps the willingness to say the things that she does -- helped Palin to draw jaw-dropping crowds to campaign events and then to whip those who showed up into a state of excited frenzy.
As talk has persisted about how Obama hung around with terrorists and/or sympathizes with them and/or is a secret Muslim, there have been many times she referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" -- emphasis on the Hussein as if that middle name alone were a disqualifier (or should be). In 2011, she encouraged Trump's "birther" investigation into whether Obama was born in the United States. Then, there was that time in 2012, when Palin wrote on Facebook that "Obama’s Shuck and Jive Ends With Benghazi Lies" -- a reference, whether she knows it or not, to the alleged practice of blacks pretending to be dumb, happy or incapable in order to manipulate, placate or somehow get the best of white slave masters and their post-Civil War progeny. The headline implied that's been a feature of the Obama presidency.
This was the comment that even some conservatives described as a racist critique of a president wrapped in commentary about a serious situation. Palin, of course, said her comments were race-neutral but intended to insult a president doing what she considered a terrible job.
Then there was the time in 2013 when she all but called Obama lazy, opting for the word "lackadaisical" instead. That same year, she accused the Senate of "betraying us," by voting for a bipartisan compromise immigration reform package. Who was the "us?"
And of course, there was that time last year that Palin called Obama an "overgrown little boy" at an Iowa political gathering. We are not going to bother explaining here why it is a bad idea to refer to a black man as a boy. And, this time, even Palin seemed to recognize in the moment that she crossed a line. She wasn't apologetic about the racial innuendo, but followed the overgrown boy comment by saying, "With all due respect to the office of the presidency."
Both Trump and Palin seem to assess themselves and those they deem like them in only the most superlative of terms. Both Trump and Palin excel at the dark political art of unifying that "us" against "them," a rotating cast of "others," who always seem to include Muslims and racial and ethnic minorities. Then, if someone dares say or write any of that -- or, worse still, labels those activities a product of or a progenitor of xenophobia, racism, nativism or Islamophbia -- Palin hits them with the old "lamestream media"/"liberal bias" combo.
Trump, by contrast, just calls the person or institution nasty, dishonest, or something worse: politically correct.
In fact, in 2016 Trump has turned labeling, vilifying and ostracizing whole groups of people into a virtue unto itself. Offensiveness has become a form of valor. It is a demonstration that he is too strong to be felled by the allegedly mighty forces of political correctness and demographic change.
You see, while Trump puts what he calls his concerns and some might call his bigotries fueled by inaccurate ideas about modern-day America on a bullhorn, Palin's favorite tool is the dog whistle. But their deepest concerns about a changing America and beliefs about what will right it? Well, those are pretty much the same.
While vying for the vice presidency in 2008, Palin might not have demonstrated a mastery of world geography or been able to name the news publications she regularly reads in a now-infamous multi-part interview with Katie Couric. She often stumbled her way through sit-down interviews where she was expected to respond to specific questions about domestic policy and international affairs. But, she has been able to blow some of the loudest and most piercing racial dog-whistles in a presidential election in some time.
And the effects were clear. Remember when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, politely corrected one of his supporters when she accused Obama of being an Arab? Remember when reporters on the campaign trail reported hearing shouts of "kill him" from the audience when Palin spoke about Obama? Remember how all that seemed to begin -- or at least come out into the difficult-to-miss open -- after Palin joined the McCain ticket? Palin, after all, shortly after becoming McCain's running mate, accused Obama of launching his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.
Now, this is not to say that the Palin endorsement and any decision to deploy Palin on behalf of Trump carries no risk. She will appeal to those already firmly in the Trump camp. She may help to draw in some of those Iowa voters mentioned above with whom she has some things in common. But she might repel further those who are not sure about Trump. And she cannot really assuage concerns that a Trump administration would not be ready and equipped with the global knowledge needed to govern on Day One.
All of that said, Trump has decided to double down on the Palin risk. On Tuesday, Trump said plainly that should Palin want it, there is a role for her in a Trump administration.
These two are really quite the political pair. They have a lot in common. So, in truth, every single one of us should have expected this endorsement sometime soon. Now, it's officially here.