With Sarah Palin on his arm, Donald Trump returned to the Bible Belt in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Wednesday to continue his pitch to grassroots conservatives.
Palin slammed President Barack Obama for his treatment of veterans less than one day after her son Track, an Iraq combat veteran, was arrested on domestic violence charges. She referred to the issue as “the elephant in the room.”
“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country,” Palin said. “That starts from the top. It’s a shame that our military personnel even have to wonder, if they have to question, if they’re respected anymore. It starts from the top.”
A day earlier, when she announced her endorsement of Trump at an Iowa rally, Palin made no mention of her son's arrest. With the story receiving considerable media attention, however, Palin offered the Oklahoma crowd an explanation.
“When my own son is going through what he goes though coming back, I can certainly relate to other families who feel these ramifications of PTSD ... our soldiers do return with,” she added. “And it makes me realize more than ever it is now or never for the sake of America’s finest that we have a commander-in-chief who will respect them.”
Held at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center, the second joint rally for the two politicians and reality television stars drew more than 10,000 people.
Palin, sporting a black leather jacket, had the crowd on its feet for much of her 25-minute introduction. Praising Trump's positions on immigration, trade, and national security, she said Trump was “the only one ballsy enough to get out there and put those issues on the table.”
Trump beamed, flashing frequent thumbs-up signs to the crowd. “Everybody wanted her endorsement,” Trump bragged.
Targeted in his use of the word “everybody” was, of course, his main rival for the GOP nomination: Ted Cruz, the Texas conservative stalwart whom Palin had endorsed during his successful 2012 Senate campaign. Trump now finds himself locked in a contentious race with Cruz in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses. Palin's endorsement comes just as Cruz is accusing Trump of being “too establishment.”
“It’s no surprise that more and more of the establishment is beginning to support Donald Trump, because Donald has promised to make deals and to continue the cronyism and corporate welfare of Washington—that’s what the cartel does. They make deals with Democrats,” Cruz told BuzzFeed on Tuesday.
Palin didn't mention Cruz or his allies by name, but the message was clear: “The GOP machine all of a sudden is saying we're not conservative enough,” Palin said. “Is it conservative to hand Barack Obama a blank check every year?”
“They now are concerned about ideology purity? Since when?” Palin told the crowd.
Palin, a devout evangelical Christian, received her loudest applause line when she discussed Trump's faith.
“Trump’s power, if you will—his passion is the fabric of America—it is work ethic and dreams and drive faith in the almighty and that is America,” Palin said.
Palin's assurances on matters of faith can particularly help Trump, a Presbyterian whose faith many in evangelical circles have questioned. The attendees in Oklahoma were following Palin's every word.
Ally Long, from Tulsa, said she’ll be casting her first vote ever for Trump. “You just know that he’s going to do what he says. He has a vision.”
Long said that she supports retired neurosurgeon and GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson as her second choice, mainly because of Carson’s faith. She said that Palin’s endorsement “helps me with Trump’s faith issue.” “I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love Sarah Palin,” Long said. “She’s one of us.”
Phillip McLachlan, a freshman student at ORU, said that Palin’s backing Trump is “huge” for evangelicals who question whether Trump is a true believer. “Him even speaking at our school? You can tell he’s trying.”
Agna Hurst, the Tulsa resident, said that she recently converted to Trump after leaning heavily toward Cruz. “I’m so angry with the Republican Party right now,” she said. “We sent them to Congress, we got them that majority. They did nothing.”
“With Sarah Palin, I just can feel it, she speaks from her heart. You know what? It’s obvious how much she loves Ted and how much she loves God. She must’ve been torn, so her stamp of approval for Trump? That means a lot to me.”
Hurst then shrugged her shoulders before adding, “The way I see it, it can’t get much worse. So why not Trump?”
Palin presented Trump as an anti-establishment candidate, who, like her, is “not afraid to go rogue.” She argued that the Washington establishment's attacks on Trump were also attacks on them personally.
“They're attacking you, too,” Palin said, pointing to the crowd. “They can't afford for the status quo to go otherwise the gravy train? It stops. And they can't keep slurping for it.”