President Obama is Mostly Wrong about Sarah Palin Creating Donald Trump


trump-obama President Obama made news this week when he claimed that there is a “direct line” between the reign of Sarah Palin (remember her?) and the rise of Donald Trump within the Republican Party. While there is some superficial merit to what he said, the irony is that HE had more to do with Trump’s ability to stage a coup within the GOP than Palin ever did.

For those who have forgotten (I try to myself), I created a documentary film about the 2008 election called Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted. It featured a news-making interview with Palin from her home, which was both the most extensive ever conducted with her about that election, as well maybe the most appealing she has ever done, period. For the next year or so, I became her most vigorous media defender, before finally ending our rollercoaster relationship in 2011 because I sensed (correctly) that she was invested in wreaking havoc on GOP hopes to beat Obama in 2012.

Based on my experience, Sarah Palin is a vastly misunderstood figure. The sympathy and respect which I once had for her due to her and her family enduring unprecedented and unfair media attacks has given way to disdain for how she sold out her principles in order to stay famous and get rich. While she is obviously not a policy wonk, contrary to public perception, she is NOT an idiot. In fact, she is actually quite smart in ways which often allow a person to “succeed,” or at least survive, in life.

In my view, the shortest way to explain the Sarah Palin which currently (barely) exists in our public discourse is that the person we now see is not the “real” Palin. She is instead a character that she has created, perhaps only subconsciously, because she is acting on instinct to become what she thinks people want from her. In a sense, in order to endure the attacks, she effectively became the person that the news media “mistakenly” presumed/wanted her to be.

In this way, very differently from how Obama thinks of it, Trump is a lot like Palin. Trump has often bragged about––and his schizophrenic campaign has verified––his ability to transform into whatever he wants to be at any given moment. As their self-interest changes, so does their persona, as the goal is to please whoever is in the next crowd and do whatever is necessary to maintain the love/attention from whichever group they are currently targeting.

Palin’s embarrassing endorsement of Trump was hardly a surprise to me (nor was Trump abandoning her the moment he secured the nomination), but it was born out of personal survival far more than it was because she was passing the torch of any sort of real political movement. Palin has no political or even media future unless the entire GOP establishment is upended completely. Trump is not only the lone candidate who could do that, but he was also the only one who would see it in his self-interest to (temporarily) to embrace her publicly. Her backing a pro-choice liberal fraud who openly mocked a reporter for his disabilities was a small price to pay because she simply had no other options to create a viable new “act” (think of it like Madonna’s choice to still dress like a slut in her late fifties).

Palin was able to bring Trump exactly what he wanted at the time: live TV cameras and some “Tea Party” street-cred. In exchange, she got the appearance of relevance and chance to get revenge on the GOP “establishment” which had betrayed her. Hopefully, like a fun, short-term, girlfriend who was never “marriage” material, she didn’t also get fooled into thinking that Trump could actually win, or that, if he somehow did, she would ever be part of spoils of his victory.

Now clearly there is some overlap between Palin’s ever-shrinking group of fanatics and Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” They are almost all white, under-educated, under-employed, and understandably angry at what they see happening to the country in which they grew up. They are also people who are far more likely to despise the “lamestream” media (the thought that my film and efforts in this area may have played even a tiny role in the rise of Trump is truly sickening to me) and exclusively consume talk radio, the Drudge Report/Breitbart, and Fox News Channel for their “news.”

In this way, Obama is correct to see a “direct line” between Palin and Trump’s nomination. In fact, while I am well aware that no one will agree with me, I still believe that if the Sarah Palin of 2009 had followed my advice (lay low, study up, and get reelected) that it is SHE who would be facing Hillary Clinton right now. However, Obama misses a very key component of this equation: himself.

The outrageous lack of media vetting of Obama which led to him “stealing” the 2008 Democratic nomination from Hillary and then the presidency is what broke the back of conservatives having ANY trust at all in non-“conservative” outlets (thus, the name of my movie Media Malpractice). Obama’s defeat of John McCain and Mitt Romney (the two best general election candidates Republicans had at the time) was grossly misperceived by the brainwashed conservative base as having occurred primarily because our two candidates wimped out to the news media and failed to fight back hard enough against him.

It is this unsophisticated misunderstanding of the political realities of presidential elections (as well as the unique nature of Obama’s candidacy) which REALLY sowed the seeds for Trump’s nomination. The GOP base decided that the “establishment” were a bunch of wussies who didn’t know what they were doing (partially true) and that the only way to quench their thirst for vengeance was to nominate the one guy they thought wouldn’t go down without a street fight (totally stupid).

This misguided view of reality laid the combustible terrain for the Trump wildfire to start. Ironically, it was because of Trump previously having taken advantage of the Obama “birtherism” myth that he was in the best position to strike the match. In a very real sense, Obama, who clearly kept the “Birtherism” story alive far longer than it needed to be because he felt, correctly, that it was politically advantageous for him to do so, is far more directly responsible for Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party than Sarah Palin is.

In fact, I see this entire election as basically a bizarre inverse of the 2008 campaign. This time, Hillary is the old “establishment” warhorse who, like McCain, is distrusted by her base and, at times, propped up by the mainstream media. Trump is, just like Obama, the charismatic but unqualified ratings-creator who, thanks to the news media being in the tank, was allowed to steal his party’s nomination. The big difference, of course, is that in 2008 the news media continued to protect Obama through the general election. With Trump they simply decided to delay his full vetting until they could use it to fully achieve their economic and political agendas.

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John Ziegler is a nationally-syndicated radio talk show host and documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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