Donald Trump's campaign to win the Iowa caucuses in less than two weeks received a boost from a Tea Party favorite—and also a previous backer of Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican candidate leading in many polls in Iowa.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, endorsed Trump Tuesday at an afternoon rally in Ames, Iowa.
"Are you ready to make America great again?" Palin said to cheers from the crowd, adding, "I am here because, like you, I know that it's now or never."
Palin picked up where she left off during the 2008 campaign, bashing President Barack Obama as weak, ineffective and unsupportive of the military in a rambling, impassioned speech. Trump, by contrast, elicited Palin's full-throated praise. "He is the master of the art of the deal," Palin said of Trump. "He is beholden to no one but the people."
Ahead of the rally, Trump touted the nod from the Tea Party favorite.
“I am greatly honored to receive Sarah’s endorsement," Trump said. "She is a friend, and a high quality person whom I have great respect for. I am proud to have her support.”
Cruz responded by offering praise for Palin and referencing her crucial endorsement during his Senate run in 2012. "I love Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is fantastic. Without her friendship and support I wouldn't be in the Senate today," he told reporters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
Palin and Trump have been exchanging compliments in the media for years. As far back as 2011, when both were dabbling in a presidential run for 2012, Palin defended Trump for saying he wasn't sure that Obama was born in the United States.
More recently, in a July 2015 radio interview, the brash real estate mogul said he would consider naming Palin to his cabinet if elected president. "I'd love that," said Trump. "Because she really is somebody who knows what's happening and she's a special person. She's really a special person and I think people know that."
He added, “Everybody loves her.”
In September, Palin told CNN she’d like to be Trump’s energy secretary. “I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby: oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth for mankind’s use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations.”
But at the time, Palin did not offer her endorsement. As recently as November, the former Alaska governor hinted that her choice would come down to the two candidates now battling for supremacy in Iowa.
"I think it would come down to Cruz and Trump, to tell you the truth," Palin said. "They're thankfully both fighters, knowing that they need to put America's safety first."
In December, Palin took to Facebook to defend Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States.
Asked about his ground-game operation in Iowa, Trump deferred to Chuck Laudner, his top Iowa strategist. "I'm going to put all the pressure on Chuck," he said. "If he doesn't do good, Chuck, you're fired."
After joining Trump at the front of the room, Laudner declined to share many specifics about efforts to prepare for the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, which commence the nomination process. "I know we go radio silent on those things, but there's nothing about this campaign that's like all the rest, or any of those in the past," he said. "We do things different."
Lauder did nothing to tone down expectations for a potential Trump win in the state, adding that the campaign did 13 caucus training sessions in the past week alone. "We feel really good about our chances, we feel really good about our reach and I think you're going to have a surprise on caucus night," he said.
Trump said establishment Republicans are increasingly moving his way. "They are contacting us left and right," he said. "These are serious establishment types."
Trump's Other Endorsement
Earlier Tuesday, the real estate mogul received another endorsement—from the daughter of legendary actor John Wayne.
"We need someone like Mr. Trump with leadership qualities, someone with courage, someone that's strong, like John Wayne," Aissa Wayne said, surrounded by cowboy hats, saddles, and clothing that her father used in his craft. "If John Wayne were around, he'd be standing right here instead of me."
Yet Trump both downplayed and sold the importance of endorsements. "I think endorsement are, depending on who, very valuable," he said. "I've never been a huge fan of endorsements—it's the candidate mostly—and I've seen very important people endorse others and nothing happened," he said. "Having a John Wayne, and John Wayne family endorsement, means a lot."
Wayne, who was born as Marion Robert Morrison, lived in Winterset for the first three years of his life. His family then moved around to several Iowa towns and eventually settled in California when he was 7 years old.
"John Wayne represented strength. He represented power," Trump said. "We have exactly the opposite from John Wayne right now in this country."
—With assistance from Ben Brody.