Sarah Palin Plays CPAC for Laughs

The former Republican rock star—that star now seriously dimmed—cracked jokes about her “rack” and drunk college students.

Sarah Palin called President Obama a liar and compared him with financial swindler Bernie Madoff as she fired up the CPAC conference and tried to propel herself back into the political conversation.

In a punchy but disjointed speech on Saturday, Palin also took swipes at Karl Rove and the Republican Party while insisting that politicians concentrate on rebuilding the country. But she did not offer a single substantive specific, other than her repeated calls to respect the Second Amendment.

She was, however, pretty funny, more stand-up comic than political practitioner.

Palin’s exchange of Christmas gifts with husband Todd: “He got the rifle, I got the rack.” What other female politician would go there?

Her advice to college Republicans was to read more Sam Adams and stop drinking Sam Adams.

Palin was, in short, entertaining, even as she stuck to such platitudes as “We must leave no American behind.”

She kept poking at Obama, saying that calling him a good politician is like describing Madoff as “a good salesman.” The difference is “the president is using our money.”

And Palin did not traffic in subtlety: “Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lied.”

She did acknowledge that, um, Obama won the election in November, but then pivoted to a lame teleprompter joke.

More interesting, perhaps, was Palin’s assault on the GOP establishment. Using Rove’s nickname, she said of the former George W. Bush lieutenant: “The Architect can head on back to the great Lone Star State.”

Palin arrived at CPAC with her once-blinding luster seriously dimmed. A rock star on the right after her 2008 vice-presidential bid, she rode a cultural wave with bestselling books, a reality show, and political stumping that kept alive the tease that she might seek the presidency.

But Palin never became identified with a particular issue or joined the national debate in a serious way, and last year lost her pundit’s perch at Fox News. As the Republican Party looks to a new generation of leaders—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie—Palin has faded from the usual speculation. She has become more of a pop-culture figure than a political one, a status underscored by her next book about the alleged war on Christmas.

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So the former Alaska governor needed the stage afforded by CPAC more than the conservative gathering needed her box-office appeal.

The speech seemed to codify Palin’s estrangement from the party that nominated her for vice president. “We’re not here to rebrand a party, we’re here to rebuild a country,” she said, complaining about “rebranding the GOP instead of restoring the trust of the American people.” Palin also said that “Washington” shouldn’t “vet” Republican candidates.

It was an outsider’s speech that played on the politics of resentment, a Palin specialty, casting herself as the truth teller who speaks for the great mass of Americans in what she called “flyover country.”