Although not-quite-three years as governor of Alaska should have left Sarah Palin in relative political obscurity, her stint as John McCain's running mate in 2008 bought the semi-unintelligible, gaffe-prone politician a frightening amount of sway over the shape of the GOP. In fact, she appear to exert so much power over the party that when she lobs attacks against the highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, it's actually treated as a legitimate threat. On Sunday, Palin vowed support for House Speaker Paul Ryan's challenger, Paul Nehlen, days after Ryan said he was not ready to endorse Donald Trump for president.
In a Facebook post, the former host of Sarah Palin's Alaska declared that "Rep. Paul Ryan abandoned the district he was to represent as special interests dictated his legislative priorities." While she didn't cite Ryan's refusal to give his stamp of approval to Trump as her reason for so publicly backing Nehlen, Palin told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview that aired that same day that "[Ryan's] political career is over but for a miracle, because he has so disrespected the will of the people. And as the leader of the GOP, the convention, certainly he is to remain neutral. And for him to already come out and say who he will not support is not a wise decision of his." Read that mouthful a second time over, and you'll see that Palin appears pretty miffed about Ryan's non-endorsement.
You pretty much could've set a watch ticking down to Palin's attack on Ryan after the House Speaker very firmly declined to endorse Trump on Thursday. Palin endorsed The Donald months ago — or it was concluded that she made an endorsement, based on her string of not entirely real words that were arranged in a curious fashion that didn't always follow the basics of modern English syntax. Any person who happily goes before a national audience to declare herself part of the "right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution” will almost certainly aim her (frequently incoherent) vitriol at people who don't agree with her.
As many commentators have pointed out, Palin's dramatic act of friendly fire provides further proof of what disarray the party is in with Trump as the all-but-certain nominee for the general election. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted of Palin's turn against Ryan: "the bottom line is that in a normal, functioning party, fights like these simply don’t happen." For his part, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday that he'd be willing to step down as convention chair if Trump wanted him to do so. So he is at least attempting to maintain a semblance of quasi-unity.
I actually think Palin's far blunter display of political aggression toward Ryan is better, because she crystallized the party conflict for Republicans — and she made the decision-making process easier. In the land of Palin, you're either with her or against her. And folks, I don't think it needs to be spelled out which option is preferable. Watching Palin make a political proclamation is like watching Dwight Schrute set out to do pretty much anything on The Office. You know from the get-go that it's ridiculous and almost certainly won't work, but it will be entertaining to observe.
That's not to make Ryan or the rest of the Republicans who are unwilling to support Trump into some heroic or saintlike rebels with a cause. They are not. They may have some higher aims of "saving the party" from a future led by Trump, but they may just as well be motivated by their own political ambitions. But when Palin draws a line in the sand, for goodness' sake, get on the other side of the line. To Republicans who are on the fence: You just got your sign from above. It's not going to get any clearer than this.