Conservatism is redefined as Palin and Schlafly stump for Trump

In her endorsement speech on behalf ofDonald Trump, Sarah Palin mentioned "squirmishes that have been running on for centuries" in reference to the endless battles between factions in the Middle East. Ms. Palin's malapropism was just one of many weird passages in her 20-minute riff and, standing awkwardly next to Ms. Palin, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination looked slightly "squirmish," if not squeamish.

Nevertheless, Ms. Palin's jump onto the Trump bandwagon was good news for The Donald. It is yet another indication that many people who consider themselves to be conservatives are not especially troubled by Mr. Trump's weak credentials as a true conservative ideologue. This is because, for many voters on the right, being conservative is less about political philosophy than it is about fear -- fear that the United States is being transformed by immigrants taking the jobs of working class whites, secularists undermining the nation's Christian identity and feminized liberal elitists appeasing black activists and foreign terrorists.


Throughout her brief but audacious career as a political personality, Ms. Palin has shown herself to be one of these emotive conservatives. She appeals to gut instincts and simmering anger, not to anyone's intellect. It is no surprise she has found common cause with her fellow reality show celebrity, the very emotive Mr. Trump. It is somewhat more surprising, though, that Mr. Trump has also won the support of another queen of the right wing, the woman who has been a major player in the conservative movement for more than half a century, Phyllis Schlafly.

The 91-year-old Schlafly first gained notoriety in the early 1960s with publication of her book, "A Choice Not an Echo." It was a political manifesto that inspired the conservative insurgents who seized the Republican presidential nomination for Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964. Back then, Ms. Schlafly contended that "kingmakers" were controlling the Republican Party and making of it a mere echo of the Democrats. Ms. Schlafly believes that is still true, and her assessment resonates well with the current grassroots antipathy to Republican leaders who have done little for average working folks while serving the needs of the big-money donors who finance their campaigns.


In an interview with the conservative blog site Breitbart, Ms. Schlafly called Mr. Trump the "only hope to defeat the kingmakers." She buys into Mr. Trump's boast that, because he is himself a billionaire, he does not need to beg for money from other billionaires the way his competitors for the nomination must do. Mr. Trump is the only one who can stand up to the multinational corporations and other major donors whose prime concern is advancing their financial interests, Ms. Schlafly said.

"Republicans ought to be a grassroots party," she said. "And the grassroots certainly agree with Donald Trump on most issues, but certainly on the immigration issue. I certainly think he represents everything the grassroots want."

The emergence of a powerful right-wing populism is becoming the big story of the 2016 presidential campaign. The white working class voters who are a key demographic in the Republican base seem to have concluded -- not unlike the progressives who are boosting Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders -- that the political system is rigged against them to favor Wall Street wheeler dealers and corporations that ship American jobs abroad and favor open borders to let in cheap labor. Republican elected officials who, by traditional measures, have nearly spotless conservative records -- men such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan -- are not trusted by the populists. Ms. Schlafly castigated Messrs. Rubio and Ryan for "not representing what grassroots Republicans want." That view is shared by many of the loud voices on conservative talk radio, including the loudest of them all, Rush Limbaugh.

And so the man who has lived a gold-plated life with a series of trophy wives, the man who not that long ago called himself a Democrat, the man who favored a national health care plan, the man who called himself pro-choice, the man who gave wads of money to gain favor with numerous politicians, including Hillary Clinton -- that man, Donald J. Trump, has smoothly rebranded himself to become the trusted voice of angry, conservative grassroots voters. It is a bizarre twist that has the potential to transform the Grand Old Party into something even Barry Goldwater would not recognize.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to see more of his work.