PLANT CITY, Florida — Does Sarah Palin reject violence at Donald Trump’s rallies, while simultaneously justifying it? You betcha.
Palin, a surrogate for the Donald Trump campaign, crashed the Florida Strawberry Festival Sunday afternoon, an event that draws half a million people annually to central Florida.
Uninvited, unexpected, and to the consternation of the event’s organizers, Palin showed up in the self-proclaimed “winter strawberry capital of the world,” ostensibly to stump for Trump before Tuesday’s Florida primaries.
Palin’s appearance was intrusive, disruptive, and ultimately just about pointless. She spoke to no more than a couple dozen people as she posed for photos at a make-your-own-strawberry-shortcake stand, dragged a large entourage of police officers through a busy festival, and then left without giving any remarks to the crowd.
The former governor did, however, provide a contradictory opinion on recent incidents of violence against Trump protesters, one that is increasingly common among the billionaire businessman’s supporters: The violence is wrong, but it is also justified.
“The thugs who are disrupting his rallies are doing nothing but harm to anyone’s right to assemble peacefully, and right to speak. [The people] who are disrupting… they’re not protesters, they’re much more violent than that,” Palin told The Daily Beast. The former Alaskan governor blamed Trump’s Republican opponents for “kinda milking” the violence in Chicago and North Carolina—which “perpetuates” the problem.
Simultaneously, the governor seemed to legitimize the strong-armed approach to protesters. Trump “certainly has [disavowed violence], thank goodness,” she said, while simultaneously arguing that “thugs” are trying to take away the free-speech rights of Trump supporters. “Trump’s reminded people, we don’t have to put up with that, because they’re disrupting, not just his message, but the people’s right to be there to hear what he has to say,” Palin said.
“We’re about happiness here! We’re happiness here!” interjected the manager of the Florida Strawberry Festival, which features as its mascot an anthropomorphic strawberry named “Mr. Berry.”
Donald Trump has encouraged his supporters and security to punch and “knock the crap” out of protesters who appear at his events.
“A lot of the people who are saying [his rhetoric is encouraging violence], I don’t think they’ve ever been to his rallies. I have… He’s always telling the crowd, be cordial, be polite—and of course the press will pick the one or two times he said, ‘If that guy does that again, then I’m gonna…’” the former governor trailed off.
Palin was mobbed by dozens of admirers in this small town, about 30 minutes east of Tampa Bay. She arrived in a black Cadillac Escalade and entered the fairgrounds through a side entrance, surrounded by more than a dozen uniformed police officers from the county police department, which guarded her as closely as the Secret Service might defend a protectee.
“Here she comes!” shouted an admirer. Cries of “We love you, Sarah!” began to ring out in the crowd. The mass of men and women pressed forward as fans began to ask for photos and selfies.
“Tell Donald, for my grandchildren—Make America Great Again. Please!”
“Save our country!”
“Sarah, there’s my candle bottle!” said a fan named B.J. Falduto, who sells custom-made ‘Candle Bottle Scent’sations’ at the festival. She thrust a bottled candle, with a bear sandblasted into the glass, toward Palin. “[Trump] is going to ‘Make America Great Again,’” Falduto gushed. “We the people haven’t seen any change in the last eight years.”
The event’s organizers weren’t aware that Palin was attending the festival until the Trump campaign announced it the previous evening, meaning they were completely unprepared for a high-profile attendee to show up at a crowded event that draws approximately 500,000 people a year.
But although she was there ostensibly to support Trump’s campaign to win the Florida primary, she didn’t speak to more than a couple dozen people before leaving. With nothing organized, she gave no speech to stir the crowds—it was all spectacle, no utility.
And for some in attendance, it was worse than useless. A small group of friends, college-aged, stood off to the side, watching the Palin-mobbing unfold.
“Who is it, Sarah Palin or Tina Fey?” asked one.
“Who would you rather it be?” responded another.
As if to say, “DUH,” the first man shot back: “Tina Fey!”