AMES, IOWA/TULSA OKLAHOMA – Conservative firebrand Sarah Palin joined Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Oklahoma Wednesday as part of her endorsement pledge in the increasingly intense race for the Republican nomination.
“Are you all ready to work to make America great again?” Palin asked a crowd of thousands packed into an arena at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, echoing Trump’s campaign mantra.
Palin, who was absent from Trump’s Wednesday morning event in Norwalk, Iowa, despite an expected appearance, rejoined the Trump campaign in Tulsa, warming up the crowd ahead of the candidate’s speech. But Palin also struck a personal tone, alluding to problems her son and other returning military vets endure when returning to civilian life and suggesting that President Barack Obama’s lack of support for veterans was related.
“It’s kind of the elephant in the room,” she began, addressing her family’s struggle.
Palin’s oldest son, Track, was arrested earlier this week in a domestic violence case in which his girlfriend told police she was afraid he would shoot himself with a rifle. Track Palin was charged with assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possessing a weapon while intoxicated in connection with the incident at Palin’s home. Track Palin enlisted in the Army on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and spent a year deployed in Iraq.
“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened,” said Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. “They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country. And that starts from the top.”
The experience, she added, “makes me realize more than ever it is now or never, for the sake of America’s finest, that we have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them.”
The White House declined comment on Palin’s remarks. A spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign did not respond to questions about why Palin was a no-show at the Iowa event.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska, announced her support for Trump on Tuesday, hours after Track Palin’s arrest became public. She erupted onto the stage in Ames, Iowa, clad in a sparkly jacket, singing Trump’s praises and declaring that, with his election, there would be “no more pussy-footing around.”
“Yesterday was amazing in every way,” Trump told supporters Wednesday.
He bragged later that “Everybody wanted her endorsement,” but she’d chosen him. “She said what you’re doing, Donald, is amazing. It’s a movement.”
The endorsement, which gives Trump a boost of conservative, anti-establishment credibility, comes as the billionaire businessman is locked in a dead heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa, where the caucuses will be held Feb. 1. Palin endorsed Cruz in his 2012 Senate race and said as recently as last month that he and Trump were both in her top tier of candidates, making the endorsement a symbolic blow to Cruz.
The endorsement of Palin in the increasingly intense 2016 presidential race is giving Trump a boost against Cruz less than two weeks before Iowa’s kick-off caucuses.
“This is going to be so much fun,” the 2008 vice presidential candidate told a Trump rally Tuesday.
Trump and Cruz are battling for the lead in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses there. “We’re almost at the finish line,” Trump said Wednesday.
Palin slammed Obama as the “capitulator in chief.” Trump, she said, would “let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS’ ass!”
She also took aim at the Republican establishment for “attacking their own front-runner” and offered a challenge to those who have suggested that Trump, whose positions on issues like gun control and abortion rights have shifted over the years, isn’t conservative enough.
Trump, in a statement, praised Palin as “a friend, and a high-quality person whom I have great respect for.”
Palin was a virtual newcomer to the national political arena when 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain named her as his running mate. She has since risen to prominence as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the party.
Republican consultant Kevin Madden said Palin’s support could help shield Trump from charges that his past positions make him too liberal to be the party’s nominee.
But some rally-goers at Trump’s event Tuesday evening said they weren’t sure whether Palin’s support would help Trump win over voters. Several referenced what they saw as her poor performance as a vice presidential candidate.
“I don’t think she’s really credible anymore,” said Bruce Dodge, 66, a retiree.