Sara Benincasa's Palin impersonation is not as famous as Tina Fey's, but maybe more uncanny
When heard the news today that Sarah Palin was endorsing Trump, I chuckled a bit. Does she actually matter anymore? Would anyone's vote be swayed by her opinion? After thinking about it, I realized that this moment is actually very important from a symbolic point of view.
Palin is effectively the prophet of Trump, his John the Baptist so to speak. In 2008, when John McCain (to his everlasting credit) refused to question Barack Obama's American-ness or to play the guilt by association game, Sarah Palin jumped at the chance to do so. All of her "maverick" talk of "real America" was the first sign that a large portion of the conservative base was thirsty for their leaders to engage in white identity politics.
Palin's discovery would be noted by the honchos of the conservative movement. Once Obama took power, the Tea Party hordes were unleashed on a steady diet of "real American" identity politics. Remember Glenn Beck's "we surround them" rhetoric? Or the "makers versus takers" rallying cry that had at its core an anxiety that white people were going to have to give up their tax dollars to people of color? (The same folks sounding this alarm also said things like "keep the government's hands off of my Medicare," so there were not principled Cato Institute libertarians, here.) The Tea Party's biggest call to arms was the proclamation that they were going to "take our country back." Who the "our" was and who it was being taken back from was never openly stated (as it never is in "post-racial" America) but the subtext was plain as day.
Palin herself was never able to be the leader of the masses that she helped inspire, most likely because she has always seemed more interested in celebrity than political power. (No one interested in political power quits being governor halfway through their term.) And so the Republican leadership managed to get an establishment candidate on the ballot on 2012 in the form of Romney, but also lost some Senate races due to the extremism (Todd "legitimate rape" Aken, anyone) of some of their Tea Party nominees. Without a leader and frustrated by the party leadership's unwillingness to cater to the Tea Party or to go full blown nativist in their rhetoric, Trump managed to swoop in and capture the same people that had been shouting some, er, "interesting" things at Palin rallies in '08.
By endorsing Trump, Palin is not necessarily making a desperate grab at relevance, but perhaps to take credit for a politics that she helped unleash and that Trump has been able to appeal to with great success. In fact, the last six years of American politics have been dominated by the demands of the Tea Party and their periodic hostage taking gambits via the debt ceiling and resolve to destroy immigration reform. When the history of these times is written in future decades, I get the feeling that Palin's emergence in '08 will be well remembered.