Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tea Party darling Sarah Palin threw her support behind Donald Trump in a raucous speech Tuesday night, a blow to a surging Ted Cruz with less than two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses.
Trump is “perfectly positioned to let you make America great again. Are you ready for that, Iowa?” Palin told a crowd in Ames, standing beside Trump. “No more pussyfooting around.”
It was all classic Palin — rambling, unpredictable and taking aim at the GOP establishment. She said Trump would “kick ISIS’ ass.” She slammed President Obama as “weak-kneed.” And, using one of her signature phrases, she praised Trump for “going rogue left and right.”
“We need someone new,” Palin said, “who can bust up that establishment that can make things great again.”
Trump promised that they were “gonna give ’em hell” and said he was “honored” by her endorsement.
The announcement of her endorsement earlier that day and her appearance Tuesday evening alongside the GOP candidate capped off a day of rampant speculation that the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee was set to endorse the Republican presidential front-runner after Trump teased a “major announcement.”
The two have long been complimentary of one another. Last fall she was floated as a possible energy secretary for Trump. And Palin praised Trump late last year on Fox News, calling him “the best thing to happen to the permanent political class since, oh I guess, the beauty of the Tea Party genuine movement rose up and shined a light on crony capitalism and then pulled the rug right out from under status quo politicians who just kind of embraced that political class.”
Their new alliance comes as the onetime detente between Trump and Cruz, the two top outsider candidates in the crowded race, has come to an end. In last week’s debate, Cruz attacked Trump over his liberal “New York values.” And Cruz’s campaign has been pushing clips of Trump previously stating his support for partial-birth abortion and gay marriage. Meanwhile, Trump has been raising doubts about the Canadian-born Republican’s eligibility.
Cruz has surged ahead of Trump in some polls in the Hawkeye State, and the timing of the Palin endorsement seems designed to blunt that momentum. Palin still has a loyal following among conservatives and Tea Party voters; she has visited Iowa many times since her national run and has cultivated relationships in the state. Her endorsement of then-state Sen. Joni Ernst in a crowded 2014 GOP Senate primary was credited with helping lift the now-U.S. senator to victory.
Palin is expected to be an important surrogate for Trump and will campaign with him Wednesday in Iowa and Oklahoma.
The Texas senator and his campaign had already sought to downplay the impact of a Palin endorsement of Trump on Tuesday.
“I think it [would] be a blow to Sarah Palin, because Sarah Palin has been a champion for the conservative cause. And if she was going to endorse Donald Trump, sadly, she would be endorsing someone who’s held progressive views all their life on the sanctity of life, on marriage, on partial-birth abortion,” Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said on CNN.
But that only seemed to inflame Palin allies. Her daughter Bristol wrote on the website Patheos, in a blog post titled “Is THIS Why People Don’t like Cruz?” that “after hearing what Cruz is now saying about my mom, in a negative knee-jerk reaction, makes me hope my mom does endorse Trump.”
And Trump’s campaign highlighted Cruz’s own words on the impact a Palin endorsement can have. “I would not be in the United States Senate were it not for Gov. Sarah Palin… She can pick winners,” Cruz previously said of her endorsement in his uphill 2012 Senate primary.
Losing Palin’s support wasn’t the only blow Cruz suffered on Tuesday. Longtime Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he would like to see the Texas senator lose, citing his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard — important to the state’s ethanol industry.
“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. What we’re trying to do is educate the people in the state of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels. He actually introduced a bill in 2013 to immediately eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s heavily financed by Big Oil. So we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive but he could be very damaging to our state,” Branstad said at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit Tuesday, according to the Des Moines Register.