Politics

02.11.12

Sarah Palin’s Mockery of Barack Obama Rouses CPAC Crowd

The former Alaska governor's broadsides against Obama drew louder cheers than the GOP candidates did. Eleanor Clift on Palin and the politics of resentment.

Her husband endorsed Newt Gingrich, but Sarah Palin made it clear in a spirited speech Saturday before conservative activists that she’s in no hurry to see the GOP race end.

But while that might be seen as an effort to slow Mitt Romney’s march to the nomination, Palin assured the cheering crowd that she’s prepared to back whichever candidate emerges the victor. “We must stand united,” she said, bringing the crowd to their feet. “We must work together to get him over the finish line.”

Palin’s words may have been aimed at Mitt Romney, whose difficulty in rallying the conservative base signals an enthusiasm gap that could cripple his chances in the fall if he wins the nomination. Palin spoke immediately after a straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington showed Romney the winner with 38 percent; Rick Santorum with 32; Gingrich 15, and Ron Paul 12.

Paul had won in recent years, and Romney’s first-place showing could indicate that once again he is poised to rebound and reinforce his front-runner status. In any event, if Romney had worries that Palin would formally endorse one of his more conservative rivals, she put that to rest at least for now, relishing a contest that she said in an earlier interview could go all the way to the August convention in Tampa. “But let’s make sure the competition brings out the best in our party,” she said, warning that the “far left and their media allies” will stop at nothing to destroy the GOP ticket, like they did in ’08 when she was the vice-presidential contender. “Let’s not do the job for them,” she said.

Others may look at Palin and think that she mostly profited from the ’08 race, but it’s clear from her comments that she found much of the experience searing, and remains bitter about the way she and her family were treated. She talked about “bullying campaign advisers who are not able to run for dogcatcher, who tell the candidate what to say,” a message that could be interpreted as meant for Romney, whose tightly scripted campaign has left him at times seeming robotic and lacking humanity.  She said the GOP nominee must be “a passionate fighter for American ideals,” and someone who can “instinctively turn right to the Constitution” for guidance.  She uses the term “constitutional conservative,” and says, “it’s too late in the game to teach it, or spin it; it has to be there.”

It’s clear from her comments that she found much of the ’08 experience searing, and remains bitter about the way she and her family were treated.

Palin’s ability to deliver a scathing critique of President Obama, which drew a raucous response from the CPAC crowd, makes her a valuable addition to the campaign trail for her party’s nominee.  She brings a taunting quality to some of the GOP’s familiar themes, referring to Obama as a “community organizer apologizing for America,” and ridiculing Obama’s favorite slogans, “Hope and change, yeah, you got to hope things change.” While the crowd chanted U-S-A, Palin topped off her riff with “Keep your change—We’ll keep our God, our guns, our Constitution.”

Palin turned Obama’s emphasis on the wealth gap in America to her advantage, and that of her Tea Party allies. Drawing on a Washington Post investigation of how members of Congress in both parties come to Washington as men and women of modest means yet manage to get rich, she said they “spread the wealth around” to their family and friends. Dubbing this “Obama’s Washington,” Palin noted that 7 of the 10 wealthiest counties in the country surround Washington D.C. “This is the government rich,” she proclaimed. “They come to D.C., denouncing the place; after a year or two, it’s not a cesspool, it’s more like a hot tub. … It’s time we drain the Jacuzzi and throw the bums out with the bath water.”

That of course includes Republicans along with Democrats, as Palin urged conservatives to take back the Senate and fortify the House with Tea Party patriots. She stuck with the anti-Big Government rhetoric that thrust the Tea Party onto center stage two years ago, avoiding the firestorm over the Obama administration’s birth control policy. She noted only that tax dollars subsidize Planned Parenthood, and that Obama believes in centralizing power with health insurance, gas mileage, “even your light bulbs.”

Palin has been largely absent from the GOP primaries, although she has made several encouraging comments about Gingrich from the relative safety of Fox News, where she has a million-dollar-a-year contract.  But she still has star appeal, and her ability to channel the Tea Party could make a difference in November, especially if the nominee is Romney.