Analysis: What Sarah Palin’s Endorsement Really Means for Donald Trump

PHOTO: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, left, endorses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally at the Iowa State University, Jan. 19, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. PlayMary Altaffer/AP Photo
WATCH The Palin Effect: What It Means for Donald Trump

Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump Tuesday night with a fiery and rambling speech, throwing out red meat to the conservative crowd and providing a potential boon to his Iowa effort less than two weeks before the caucuses.

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Her backing comes at a time when the New York real estate mogul is being questioned by some conservatives and hammered by Sen. Ted Cruz for his “New York Values.” Cruz is leading in Iowa state polls, but just barely, which means the former Alaska governor’s endorsement could help push Trump over the finish line.

Craig Robinson, the former political director of the Iowa GOP and publisher of The Iowa Republican, says Palin could help give Trump the edge over Cruz in the first caucus state.

“Ted Cruz has been talking about ‘New York values’ and Sarah Palin, one thing she’s not ever going to be described is having New York or East Coast values," he said. "She’s changed the subject on that. And when you look at the polling data a lot of Trump supporters are also very favorable to Ted Cruz so if someone is deciding between the two this Sarah Palin stamp of approval could move you in that direction.”

Robinson added that Palin’s appeal is similar to Trump’s and that is because supporters “think she’s been disrespected and not taken seriously, and that is the same mindset of Trump.”

“That’s what could help, especially on the door step of the caucuses,” Robinson added.

But Palin’s endorsement is not without its drawbacks. She has a mixed endorsement record with high-profile wins -- including Cruz, whom she backed -- and losses. Robinson notes the most recent GOP debate was one where Trump was considered “much more serious” but, now, having Palin “by your side” could lead to questions about that seriousness.

“I think that it could hurt down the road, but to be quite honest you’ve got to look at the timeframe this is happening,” Robinson said. “This makes sense in Iowa, where he doesn’t necessarily need conservative credibility, but what he needs desperately is … validation that he is one of us and not against us.”

Robinson did caution that “down the road” if there is continued “speculation about what kind of role Sarah Palin would have in a Trump administration, it could get a little dicier, not in the Southern conservative states, but in the rustbelt states … where he needs a much more serious side and Palin doesn’t help him accomplish that.”

Russell Moore, who heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the Palin endorsement could help with “one stream of evangelicalism,” but cautioned that evangelical Christian voters are a “much broader and much more complicated (voter bloc) than people assume.”

Moore, who has been critical of Trump, said the endorsement could actually hurt with “young evangelicals” who also may be turned off by the “theater of the endorsement as we saw yesterday … but frankly I think the Trump campaign knows the sort of evangelicals that are likely to be put off by that are not likely to vote for Trump anyway.”

Moore added the endorsement could help with those evangelicals who already support Trump or are “right on the bubble of supporting him.”

There’s also the question of distraction. The Palin news was a huge media story, but along with it came the headlines that her son Track was arrested in an alleged domestic violence incident with his girlfriend in Wasilla.

The two politicians and reality-television stars capture an astounding amount of media attention, but those headlines can often be a double-edged sword.