Former president Donald Trump on Sunday endorsed Sarah Palin for Alaska’s lone congressional seat, throwing his weight behind the ex-governor who embraced Trump before he came to dominate the GOP.
“Sarah shocked many when she endorsed me very early in 2016, and we won big,” Trump said in a statement Sunday. “Now, it’s my turn! Sarah has been a champion for Alaska values, Alaska energy, Alaska jobs, and the great people of Alaska.” Like Trump, Palin portrays herself as a brash voice against the establishment and the media, and the former president went on to praise Palin for standing up to “corruption” in government and the “Fake News.”
Republican candidates have scrambled to court Trump for support in 2022 races, even as the former president slows his endorsements and shows a willingness to abandon favorites — renouncing his support for Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) last month after the Senate hopeful strayed slightly from Trump’s relentless false narratives regarding the 2020 presidential race.
Palin’s race and a slew of upcoming primaries will test the power of Trump’s support in 2022 as his chosen gubernatorial candidate in Georgia struggles and as some observers say an intense focus on election falsehoods could hurt his picks in the general contest.
Palin cast herself in a Facebook post last week as a fighter against the “radical left.” She shot to right-wing stardom as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election and remained in the headlines even after leaving political office, boosting the tea party movement and embracing her pop-culture status on reality TV.
“America is at a tipping point,” Palin said in a statement, criticizing inflation, praising the “free market” and denouncing illegal immigration. “As I’ve watched the far left destroy the country, I knew I had to step up and join the fight.”
Palin is competing against candidates across parties in the June 11 primary for Young’s seat, the first step in a special election under Alaska’s new top-four primary system. The four people who win the most votes will appear on a ranked-choice ballot in August.
Voters passed the change to election procedures in 2020 over the opposition of many Republicans. The shift has upended a previously predictable race in Alaska, where Democrats have not won a federal election for almost 15 years.
Palin’s opponents include 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Al Gross, Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant (D) and Republican state Sen. Josh Revak, who had chaired Young’s 2022 reelection campaign.
Palin — who was elected Alaska’s first female governor in 2006 — paid tribute to Trump as she signaled interest in Young’s former seat.
“We need people like Donald Trump, who has nothing to lose, like me,” she said on Fox News last month. “We’ve got nothing to lose and no more of this vanilla milquetoast namby-pamby … stuff that’s been going on.”
While endorsing Palin on Sunday night, Trump claimed that she “lifted the McCain presidential campaign out of the dumps.” Palin’s selection as McCain’s running mate did thrill the Republican base — but McCain would eventually express regret over his choice. Palin won national name recognition but also ridicule for gaffes, and was portrayed as unserious and unqualified on “Saturday Night Live.” Stanford University researchers concluded in a 2010 study that Palin’s presence on the presidential ticket cost McCain 1.6 percentage points, or more than 2 million votes.
Palin’s popularity in Alaska fell drastically after her 2008 vice-presidential campaign and her decision to resign as governor the following summer. In 2018, when Palin suggested that she might challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) after the moderate incumbent declined to support Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a poll conducted by Alaska Survey Research found that 31 percent of Alaskans had a favorable view of Palin.
Trump used his endorsement to criticize the campaign Palin’s onetime running mate, McCain — a moderate Republican whom Trump has repeatedly attacked, even after the death of the senator from Arizona. Campaigning for president in 2015, Trump infamously said McCain was “not a war hero” despite his service in Vietnam and quipped that he liked “people that weren’t captured.”
Palin has largely stayed away from national politics for the past decade. But she continued to champion conservative causes and cultivate a following. Palin sold more than 2 million copies of her memoir, signed a lucrative contract with Fox News and starred in the TLC show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
“What am I trying to accomplish? Justice, for people who expect the truth in the media,” Palin told reporters as she entered court. A judge dismissed the case in February, saying Palin did not show that the Times acted with “actual malice” even as he criticized the newspaper’s error in a 2017 editorial.
Like others who have won Trump’s endorsement, Palin has helped amplify the former president’s debunked claims that rampant fraud marred the 2020 election.
“When there were shenanigans, obviously, in so many of the polling areas, the president has insisted that we look into where all these votes had come from,” she said last year while clashing with Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.