At a moment when the tea party movement has taken a back seat in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Sarah Palin went to Washington this weekend to remind Republicans that she still represents an insurgent force that the Republican establishment ignores at its peril.
Though she remains a tea party favorite, it is unclear how much power Palin actually holds, since she has mostly faded from the national stage after announcing she would not run for president. She is still under contract to the Fox News Network, but the urgency attending her every pronouncement has gone away.
Still, that did not stop her from demanding that the Republican leadership not just respect the “tea party members of Congress” -- as Palin called the representatives who won in the Republican landslide of November 2010 -- but also empower them.
“They’ve been ostracized. They’ve been dismissed. They’ve been lied about by the president,” Palin told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” a day after delivering a rousing closing address to the Conservative Political Action Conference that featured her familiar passion for small government, her relatively new critique of “crony capitalism” and her trademark sarcasm aimed at President Obama.
“We would hope that the leadership in Congress, especially within our own party … would start at least accepting and really appreciating what these tea party members have done,” Palin told Wallace. “And I would like to see them in party leadership positions.”
When Wallace pushed her to name names — Was she talking about House speaker John Boehner? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell? — she demurred. The establishment, she said, is anyone “not engaging in sudden and relentless reform we need in order to defend our republic, in order to get us off of this road toward bankruptcy.”
Palin also offered her assessment of the GOP presidential field.
On Saturday at CPAC, she said that Republicans are looking for a candidate who can “instinctively turn right to the Constitution,” which many read as a knock on Mitt Romney, who implemented universal healthcare in Massachusetts and has changed his position on some of the social issues Republicans hold dear. “It’s too late in the game to teach it or spin in,” she told the CPAC audience. “It has to be there.”
“Do you trust that Romney is an instinctive conservative?” Wallace asked.
“I’m not convinced, and I don’t think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced,” Palin said. “And that is why you don’t see Romney get over the hump.”
“I trust that his idea of conservatism is evolving,” Palin said. “And I base this on a pretty moderate past … even in some cases a liberal past.”
She called Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan “Obamneycare,” saying, “yes, we’ll coin that one,” though the word was first used by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Romney after dropping out of the presidential race in August.
Palin praised former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for his consistently conservative positions on social issues and former House speaker Newt Gingrich for his “historical knowledge.”
She was far less enthusiastic when Wallace queried her about the upcoming HBO movie, “Game Change,” based on the bestselling book about the 2008 campaign that portrayed Palin on the brink of a emotional collapse after Sen. John McCain tapped her as his running mate.
“Let’s watch,” said Wallace, before playing a clip that featured Palin, played by Julianne Moore.
“Must we?” replied Palin.
“Millions of people are going to see that,” said Wallace.
“Well, I’m sorry that millions of people are going to waste their time,” said Palin, who said she was ambivalent rather than angry. “And I’m sure they have more productive and constructive things to do.”