Four years after Sen. John McCain asked former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate, Palin continues to be much more influential in GOP primaries than McCain and many other GOP leaders because her endorsements carry weight with many conservative voters. Her record of backing winners in GOP primaries this year so far is five wins, including Ted Cruz in Texas just last week, to no losses. Even so, Palin continues to be disrepected in GOP establishment circles and not necessarily for her conservative views, but rather for her supposed lack of "credentials."
For example, when no less an establishment figure than former Vice President Dick Cheney was a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1989, his voting record was very conservative most of the time and did reflect opinion in Wyoming. But Cheney was also a high White House staff member to President Gerald Ford and a cabinet member for President George H.W. Bush 41. Unfortunately on July 29, Cheney gratutiously told the ultra-liberal and establishment Washington Post that he thought Sarah Palin was a poor choice for the VP nomination in 2008 because she did not have the credentials to be president.
But if I had to bet, I am positive that most candidates in GOP primaries would much rather have the brand name of Sarah Palin in their list of endorsements than the name of Dick Cheney. It is not because they think Cheney is a bad guy, but because they know his endorsement is not a factor in gaining votes but Sarah Palin's endorsement is a factor because those who like her trust that she will give them good advice in most situations.
It all comes down to who do grassroots conservatives trust the most? Many conservatives often feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy was holding his football. Just when the conservatives think real policy victories are on the horizon, then the GOP Establishment pulls the ball away and squanders the opportunity for a variety of reasons ranging from a lack of conviction in principles to short-term political expediency.
Grassroots conservatives foolishly believed Cheney's old boss President George H.W. Bush 41 when he infamously told the 1988 Republican National Convention, "My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’"
But late one night in 1990, the Bush White House press office quietly acknowledged that Bush had made a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress to raise taxes supposedly in exchange for spending cuts, but the taxes went up and the spending cuts never happened of course and the deficit continued to grow without a pause.
It is a series of policy cave-ins to liberal Democrats such as that 1990 deal that has cost the old GOP Establishment dearly in terms of not being trusted by many grassroots conservatives who remember the flip flops. Bush 41 also made a series of poor choices in economic advisers such as the late Harvard Professor Richard Darman. Even Ronald Reagan made bad selections for his cabinet such as former RINO Congressman David Stockman of Michigan to be Director of the Bureau of the Budget at a time when Stockman did not believe in Reagan tax policy and sabotaged Reagan policy when he could. Many of the establishment GOP figures often have stellar "credentials" for their offices but also often lack the trust of conservatives for good reasons because they too often are happy to sacrifice principles for expediency.
As to actual credentials, one could argue, and I do argue, that the real-world government experience of Sarah Palin in 2008 was as good or better than the actual government experience of Barack Obama when he won the top job that year. So even though I respect the contribution that Dick Cheney made to conservative policies over many years, I certainly do not share his dismissive opinion of Sarah Palin and I have to wonder if Cheney, and other people who see themselves as GOP Establishment leaders, are not jealous of the influence that Palin has, but they can never even aspire to now, because they have lost the crucial trust factor.
Once it is lost, it is very hard to restore trust and the former GOP establishment of 1990 to 2008 is gradually being eclipsed by a new force of Tea Party and social conservatives who tend to have more steel in their spines when dealing with increasingly agressive Left-Wing Democrats. I am confident that change in a leadership generation will be a good thing for the Republican Party in the long run because a new compact of trust can form a new basis for building up the party based on enduring principles of freedom that trump "credentials" and fake "smart politics" every time.