Op-ed: Donnie and Barracuda

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, January 23, 2016 6:29pm
  • Opinion

Let’s hear it for Chuck and Sally Heath. And John McCain. And now Donald Trump. In 1964, Mr. and Mrs. Heath (they didn’t use “Ms.” back then) brought Sarah Palin into this world. As a kid, she was known as “Sarah Barracuda.” In 2008, McCain made her his vice-presidential candidate, and since then she’s been called a lot of other things. Finally, once she lived down to those descriptions, she ever so slowly faded from prominence, except in the eyes of the ultraconservatives who adamantly hold her close to their hearts.

What is sad about her demise is that those of us in newsbiz lost an easy target. We could always count on her to spout something so ridiculous or even incoherent that we always had someone to target. But still, she was a faded star. We moved on to other buffoons.

Now, thanks be to one of them: Donald Trump, who has dredged Sarah from obscurity once again. She’s back and giving us plenty of reason to ridicule her. Thank you, Donald. Obviously, you’re no slouch when it comes to outrageous and hateful comments, but frankly that was becoming old news, a tired story. And besides helping your buddies in the media, which you always like to do, it was a pretty smooth campaign move.

After all, Ted Cruz has been sucking up your tea-party supporters to the point that he might win in Iowa. Your big crowds don’t mean much in the state; little caucuses do, and the true believers are going his way. But they are the ones who still adore her “maverick” style. So when she put it on full display, standing next to you, you could bask in each other’s reflected glory. As usual, her speech as bizarre: “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah?”

As we know, it’s Cruz who’s usually seeking the hallelujahs, delivering his righteous sermons to the religious fundamentalists who saturate Iowa. And it was Cruz who had so benefited from a Sarah Palin endorsement when he was running for Texas senator. But how fickle is politics? Pretty fickle. She’s latched on to the Donald, and it hurt enough that the Ted went into his well-honed magnanimous routine: “I love Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is fantastic. Without her friendship and support I wouldn’t be in the Senate today,” he told reporters. “So regardless of what Sarah decides to do in 2016, I will always remain a big, big fan.” That translates to “Sarah Palin can burn in hell.”

As for McCain, he has feuds going with both Trump and Cruz, so it’s no surprise that he insists he is “not taking sides.” He’s never bad-mouthed Palin, even when so many of those close to him did to the degree that it became the main theme of a movie — “Game Change.”

And now she’s back, babbling away. Trump even suggests that she might have a prominent role in his administration, so those of us in media face a real dilemma. On the one hand, we will celebrate her nonstop entertainment value. She hasn’t lost her touch and was in rare form as she spewed out her endorsement gibberish: “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’” She seems to be trashing those who say Trump is not consistently on the right. But in Palinworld, none of that matters. Her followers don’t care. Nor does she, as long as she’s in the spotlight again.

As for her new guy, Trump has that same ability to say whatever he wants, no matter how stupid or offensive. So yes, like him, Sarah Palin will make our jobs easier. We always appreciate that. Of course, if they are ultimately successful, the country may be doomed, but at least we’ll go down laughing.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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