Strange bedfellows



Before venturing into July, I want to dispense with one piece of unfinished business from June. Amidst all the eventful primaries that were staged last month - particularly in Nevada, Arkansas, North Carolina, and South Carolina - it's also worth noting what happened in the Republican gubernatorial primary in Iowa:

Terry Branstad, a former four-term governor, won that Iowa GOP primary and seems poised to complete his political comeback in the November election.

And by now you might well be wondering, "Who the heck is Terry Branstad and why should I care about him when I could be watching the World Cup?" Or you might be thinking, "Watching soccer is about as exciting as watching my toenails grow, but reading about some guy named Terry Branstad sounds even worse."

But the reason I bring him up is because this is really a post about Sarah Palin.

Oh (as Alec Baldwin famously said in Glengarry Glen Ross) - have I got your attention now?

Palin has been doling out endorsements during this primary season; on the eve of the Iowa gubernatorial primary, she still hadn't conferred her seal of approval. The Republican base awaited the word. Most political observers assumed that she would give the nod to Bob Vander Plaats, a diehard social conservative who vowed (among other things) to overturn, via executive order, the Iowa high court's recent ruling in favor of gay marriage. Palin's Iowa followers were comfortable with Vander Plaats; by contrast, they loathed Branstad, an establishment GOP figure and alleged "RINO" (Republican In Name only) who had infuriated the Christian right during a long gubernatorial tenure that ended in 1999.

Among other perceived sins, Branstad had chosen a pro-choice lieutenant governor to serve with him during his final two terms. He appointed two of the judges who delivered the aforentioned Iowa high court ruling in favor of gay marriage. Back in 1996, in the Iowa presidential caucuses, he had even supported Bob Dole, who at the time was widely deemed by conservatives to be an establishment snore. And Branstad, in a recent debate with Vander Plaats, said that straight people are "generally" better foster parents than gay people - a remark that was viewed by Iowa conservatives as way too wishy-washy.

And yet, when Sarah Palin finally pulled the trigger just days before the June primary, she bestowed her endorsement on Branstad.

Palin's fans went nuts, as evidenced by the vitriol posted all month on her Facebook page. Just a few tidbits:

"Man, what a terrible choice in Iowa, Sarah. I guess you got co-opted by the milk toast moderates. I thought you were better than that."

"Your endorsement...was the nail in the coffin to a true conservative, Bob Vander Plaats, who was endorsed by the local tea party...We are extremely disappointed in your endorsement, because (Branstad's) views and governance are nothing like yours."

"Sarah, I use to be a huge supporter of you, but it seems as if you are falling into the 'politics as usual' category that you condemned so much throughout your book."

"Sarah, I think you made a big mistake...It makes you appear to be just another mainstream Republican who really doesn't want true change in our political system."

"Terry Branstad is the absolute poster boy of the RINO good old boys that you always gave as a reason to go to Washington to shake things up. This (endorsement) is not only wrong, it is real, real, real stupid."


But, given the usual pragmatics of politics, it's not hard to figure why Palin opted for such a strange bedfellow. Despite the social conservative antipathy toward Branstad on the eve of the primary, the Iowa polls reported (accurately, as it turned out) that Branstad was poised to trounce his GOP opponent and emerge as the odds-on fave to win in November. Palin therefore decided it was wise to endorse Branstad and ensure that he would be a political friend down the road.

Why? Because Iowa is the first stop on the 2012 presidential trail, and the governor of Iowa tends to wield a lot of influence in his own party's caucuses. Next year, the prospective Republican candidates will be competing to sign up the best Iowa activists for their ground-game teams, and to attract Iowa donors. If Branstad returns as governor, he'll be in a prime position to help - or hurt - the GOP presidential contestants.

Palin, thinking pragmatically as opposed to ideologically, decided that it would be a bad move to tick off Branstad. If she had endorsed Vander Plaats, a victorious Branstad would have owed her nothing in the future.

Translation: Palin may indeed be running for president in 2012.

At the very least, by endorsing Branstad, she took care to maximize her options. To win, or at least to put yourself in the position to win, you gotta make some deals. There is still truth in the old saw that politics makes strange bedfellows.