When the political history of this era is written, two of the most colorful figures are likely to be Sarah Palin and Herman Cain.
The once-obscure former governor of Alaska, picked as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, went on to create a Palin-centric industry as public speaker, author, reality TV star, Fox News commentator, and potential presidential candidate who made tons of money while tantalizing millions of tea party supporters around the country with suggestions that she might run this year. She was (still is) catnip to the media.
Herman Cain, the businessman who’d never held elective office, similarly dazzled the tea party with his conservative policy positions, his self-confident and humorous manner, and an ability to hold his own in those early crowded debates with career politicians. That he’s African American seemed to dispel the charge that the tea party movement was tinged with racism. For a while, he was winning straw polls, but he had to “suspend” his presidential campaign when a series of women made allegations of sexual misconduct.
As the Republican nominating campaign has been whittled down to a four-man race, becoming a gloves-off rhetorical fight – mainly between alternating front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – do Herman Cain and Sarah Palin have any remaining political clout?
At this point, it’s hard to imagine either one of them playing a prominent role at the GOP’s convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. For the most part, Republican presidential politics has moved beyond them. Despite their ability to rouse a tea party gathering, each carries certain baggage the Republican Party would just as soon not remind voters of that close to the November election.
But this past week both Palin and Cain weighed in on behalf of Gingrich – Palin with a spirited defense of the former House Speaker, Cain with an official endorsement.
Gingrich in recent days has had to endure not only relentless attacks from the Romney campaign and the independent super PAC supporting the former Massachusetts governor – the rhetoric could be measured in megatonnage – but a series of biting sniper assaults from establishment Republicans like former Sen. Bob Dole and such conservative commentators as Peggy Noonan and Ann Coulter.
”If Gingrich is the nominee, it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices,” said Dole in a letter released Thursday. “Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him, and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.”
Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, dismisses Gingrich as an “angry little attack muffin.”
All of that was just too much for Palin, who (like her tea party supporters) has never hesitated to go after Republican establishment figures and thinking.
"Look at Newt Gingrich, what's going on with him via the establishment's attacks,” Palin said on Fox Business. “They're trying to crucify this man and rewrite history and rewrite what it is that he has stood for all these years.”
Then she took to her Facebook site to continue the defense.
"What we saw with this ridiculous opposition dump on Newt was nothing short of Stalin-esque rewriting of history,” she argued. “It was Alinsky tactics at their worst.” (Gingrich frequently charges that President Obama was influenced by Saul Alinsky, the late community organizer and author of “Rules for Radicals.”)
Palin hasn’t formally endorsed Gingrich (yet), but her husband Todd has.
“I think that endorsement was real reflective of a lot of Americans who understand that somebody with experience in cutting government budgets, cutting taxes – which does more for liberty and an economic turnaround than anything else – someone who has waged war on Hillarycare and government taking over of healthcare – somebody with that experience plus somebody who has struggled personally and overcome struggles and challenges – would be one that was embraced by voters,” Sarah Palin said on Fox.
On Saturday, Herman Cain gave Gingrich his full political blessing.
"I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States," Cain said at an event in West Palm Beach, Fla. "It is time for conservatives and Republicans to refocus their attention on the ultimate mission of defeating President Obama. I believe Speaker Gingrich is the bold leader we need to accomplish this mission."
Gingrich welcomed Cain’s support.
“America’s challenges are too great for mere tinkering around the edges,” he said in a statement. “Just like Herman, who ran his campaign based on big ideas, I am running on bold solutions that will boost job creation, cut bureaucratic red tape, and fundamentally transform Washington. I’m honored to have Herman’s support, and I look forward to working with him to help put the American people back to work.”
Will Cain’s and Palin’s support make any difference to Gingrich’s campaign? Perhaps to undecided tea partyers in this coming week’s Florida primary and the contests that follow.