Sarah Palin came out on top in last weekend’s primary to replace longtime Alaska congressman Don Young (who died in March). She now qualifies for the general election scheduled for August 16.
Palin’s 2008 vice presidential campaign heralded the ascendancy of the populist wing of the Republican Party. His campaign this year could again serve as a precursor, this time for what will happen in the 2024 presidential election, assuming Trump goes as planned. Yet despite the similarities, there are important ways in which Trump’s populist approach differs from Palin’s. Examining these differences can provide insight into the impact their candidacies could have on the GOP and national politics.
Palin’s Christian faith is central to her identity. She described an experience of Alaska’s natural outdoor beauty when she was 11 years old as one in which she was “born again.”
She concluded that “if God knew what he was doing when he created Alaska, then he certainly had ideas in mind when he created a point like me.”
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“From that day on,” she wrote in her 2010 book “America by Heart,” “I put my life in God’s hands.”
In her writings, Palin recounted many times when she prayed, alone and with her family, at important times in her life. When told that her baby would have Down Syndrome (her fifth born), she first questioned God. In preparation for the birth of her son (whom she and husband Todd named Trig), she wrote a letter from “her maker’s” perspective.
She prayed, and when he was born, she wrote, “I knew that not only had God made Trig different, but He had made him perfect.
Palin’s religious beliefs play an important role in her politics. She believes that faith played a decisive role in the creation of America and that the prayer of American leaders in times of crisis is routine, bipartisan and good.
Rather than John F. Kennedy’s approach to religion and politics in which he separated the two, she praised Mitt Romney’s speech during his 2004 presidential campaign in which he “described with eloquently and correctly the role of faith in American public life” by embracing religion rather than wanting to run away (as she implies Kennedy did). For Palin, her faith, she says, guides her, in ways big and small, consciously and unconsciously, virtually non-stop.
Palin’s views on abortion are informed by her faith. She unabashedly declared that she was, and always has been, pro-life. The birth of a son with special needs and the teenage pregnancy of daughter Bristol, though difficult to accept at first, she writes, strengthened her anti-abortion beliefs. “Choosing life may not be the easiest path, but it’s always the right path,” she concluded. “I got this confirmation.”
The importance Palin places on her faith contrasts with Trump, who is not known to be particularly religious.
Trump held pro-choice views before running to become president. The reason for his later change of mind, he says, was not because of his faith but because he observed that a friend of his who was considering having an abortion but did not, had a child who ended up being “a total superstar, a big, big kid. That example, and others like it he observed, resulted in him taking a pro-life stance, he said -he declares.
As a presidential candidate in 2016, rather than prioritizing social issues, Trump focused on things like the economy, immigration and foreign policy toward China.
On immigration, Trump made implicit and sometimes explicit racial/ethnic appeals, tapping into white working-class cultural anxieties. He promised to build a wall on the southern border to keep out illegal immigrants whom he characterized, in many cases, as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” (while adding the qualifier that some, he supposed, were good people). He pledged to ban Muslims from entering the United States. He referred to African Americans using stereotypical tropes (saying, for example, to black people in America: “You live in poverty; your schools are no good; you don’t have a job.”
While president, Trump called Haiti and African states “a shitty country.” He tweeted that the four minority women who made up what was called the team needed to “go back” to where they came from. Regarding the clashes between white supremacists and protesters at a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Va., Trump said there were “very good people on both sides.”
In her memoir, Palin credits her relationship with Todd, someone who is Yupik Eskimo and hated prejudice, with broadening her worldview.
Getting to know her family, she said, made her appreciate Alaska’s social diversity better. “Our background differences were exciting to me,” Palin wrote in her memoir, “and opened up my more protected world.”
John McCain, Palin’s 2008 running mate, deliberately tried to avoid making race an issue in the election. He forbade using Obama’s former association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a corner issue.
When a member of the public at a town hall said she didn’t trust Obama and called him an Arab, McCain refuted her, saying he (Obama) was a family man decent, a citizen and not (an Arab). Such an approach contrasts with Trump’s racialized promotion of the “birther” conspiracy theory.
Palin objected, at first privately, to McCain’s campaign strategy of avoiding the subject of Obama’s former association with the Reverend Wright. Disagreement spilled over into the public when, after being asked about Wright by conservative commentator Bill Kristol, she replied that she didn’t “know why this association wasn’t discussed more, because these are terrible things. what the pastor had said about our great country. She went on to say that “because he (Obama) didn’t get up and walk away – to me, that says a lot about his character.” After the campaign, Palin wrote that she would “forever question the campaign to ban discussion of such associations”.
In “America by Heart,” Palin wrote that minorities were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Katrina, not because of racism or government incompetence, but because of the high rate of “lack of father among poor African-Americans in New Orleans”, which “resulted in high crime rates”. , endemic drug addiction, school failure and chronic dependence on social assistance. Those on the Gulf Coast weren’t as hard hit by the hurricane, she wrote, because of their “strong and intact families.” Such views not only seem callous (blaming the victims of a natural disaster), but also play into long-held stereotypes that African Americans are violent, ignorant, lazy, and prone to violence.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Trump presidency was his willingness to violate long-standing democratic norms, as evidenced in particular by his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. Palin, like others Prominent Republicans currently seeking office expressed skepticism about the election results.
During her time as governor, she was more circumspect. Shortly after his election, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring the state to provide benefits to partners of same-sex employees. Republicans in the state legislature responded by passing a bill that would have prohibited doing so, which the court ruled unconstitutional.
Although Palin is opposed in principle to the state extending benefits to same-sex state employees, she vetoed the bill, saying she was constitutionally required to do so. thus earning the respect of Democrats and others across the political spectrum for privileging the state. constitution on a personal conviction.
That was over 15 years ago. Whether Palin feels such an obligation today, given the loosening of democratic standards, is uncertain.
An election victory for Palin and/or Trump would strengthen the populist wing of the Republican Party.
Each has the potential to influence the GOP, and national politics more broadly, in their own way. It’s too early to predict with certainty whether either will return to Washington. What is certain, however, is that the two will continue to inspire fervent support among their admirers and inflame opposition among their critics in a way that few other public officials in the United States do.
David Dreyer is a professor of political science at Lenoir-Rhyne University.