AMES, Iowa — As Donald Trump handed over his rally crowd to Sarah Palin here Tuesday evening, the folksy conservative icon surveyed the hundreds of Iowans who gathered in a dirt-floored agriculture hall to see the man she had just endorsed for president.
“Looking around at all of you, you hard-working Iowa families, you farm families, and teachers and Teamsters and cops and cooks,” Palin said, as the lights reflected off her sparkly jacket and Trump stood to her left, smirking. “You rock-and-rollers and holy rollers. All of you who work so hard. You full-time moms, you with the hands that rock the cradle. You all make the world go round. And now our cause is one.”
Palin was back — complete with her trademark cliches, rhymes and snarky jokes, laying out why she thinks Trump is the best hope for the country.
In a 20-minute stemwinder, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor praised Trump’s negotiating skills, support of the military and “quiet generosity.” She described Trump as a candidate who is beholden to his supporters — people like her and those in the crowd — not the Republican Party or major donors.
“He, being the only one that has been willing, who’s got the guts, to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debated on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and hide,” Palin said. “In fact, they’ve been wearing political correctness kind of like a suicide vest. And enough is enough.”
The endorsement by Palin, now a fixture on cable TV, is a major pickup for Trump, who has been struggling to maintain a share of the lead in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has gained support and major endorsements. The three appeared together at a rally on Capitol Hill in September, and Palin backed Cruz during his 2012 Senate campaign.
But on Tuesday Palin never mentioned the senator. And while her endorsement record is mixed, the decision to pick Trump serves a stinging blow to Cruz, who continued to praise Palin anyway.
“I love Sarah Palin,” Cruz said outside a general store in Barnstead, N.H. “Sarah Palin is fantastic. Without her friendship and support I wouldn’t be in the Senate today. And so regardless of what Sarah decides to do in 2016, I will always remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin’s.”
Palin, who was on the ticket in 2008 with the GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has continued to be a popular spokeswoman for conservatives long after leaving office in her home state. She frequently offers political commentary on cable news channels, has starred in a reality television show and is regularly a featured guest at conservative conventions. Her memoir, published in 2009, sold more than 2 million copies and was one of the fastest-selling political books in history.
Trump introduced Palin as “Governor Sarah Palin” and described her as “a person whom I’ve known for a long time, who I’ve respected for so long, an incredible husband, an incredible family.” Palin, in turn, marveled at Trump’s record as the “master at the art of the deal” and building “big things, things that touch the sky.”
“He is from the private sector, not a politician: Can I get a hallelujah?” Palin said. The crowd answered back: “Hallelujah!”
She also humanized him and gave her supporters the okay to like a New Yorker.
“Yeah, our leader, he’s a little bit different,” Palin said. “He’s a multi-billionaire — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s amazing: He is not elitist at all. Oh, I just hope you all get to know him more and more as a person and a family man.”
Palin, who plans to campaign Wednesday alongside Trump in Iowa and Oklahoma, said Trump understood the anger of Americans — something she said the Republican Party doesn’t understand.
“They’re attacking their own front-runner,” Palin said. “Now would the left ever — would the [Democratic National Committee] ever go after their front-runner and her supporters? No, because they don’t eat their own, they don’t self-destruct.”
The audience was more of a Trump crowd than a Palin crowd, and her endorsement probably wasn’t needed to excite the people who support Trump strongly enough to journey through a snowstorm and wait outdoors in 15-degree weather to see him. But it could push voters not currently considering him to take a look.
“It’s just nice to see a strong woman conservative supporting The Donald,” said Lana Benz, 55, a pharmacist from Marshalltown, Iowa, who plans to caucus for Trump. “She’s got a lot of energy, I know that.”
Others said they aren’t exactly Palin fans and wish they could have heard more from Trump, but they welcomed her support. A few of Trump’s most vocal fans on Twitter questioned why this failed vice presidential candidate was trying to explain their beloved candidate to them.
“She’s not my all-time favorite person, but I don’t dislike her either,” said Angie Dietz, 52, who drove from Ankeny, Iowa, with her family. “It can’t be anything but good. . . . The more support, the better.”
Palin wrapped up her comments by telling the crowd to picture the day that President Obama leaves the White House. At that point, she said, Obama would look up in Chicago and see a skyscraper with Trump’s name on it.
“He’ll be able to see that shining, towering Trump tower,” Palin said. “Yes, Barack, he built that, and that says a lot. Iowa, you say a lot being here tonight, supporting the right man who will allow you to make America great again.”
Trump thanked Palin for her support. “She feels it, she understands it, better than anybody,” he said.
The two then hit the rope line to greet Trump’s fans. At first Trump led, with Palin just behind him. But as he slowly tried to shake as many hands, sign as many books and take as many selfies as possible, she passed him and stayed far ahead.
When she reached the end, she didn’t wait for Trump. She ducked through the curtain and headed toward a waiting luxury RV.
Katie Zezima contributed to this report from New Hampshire.