Trump Drafts Palin in Cruz Fight, a Tactic With Risks for Both Sides

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.27.08MAGGIE HABERMAN Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Good Wednesday morning. Donald J. Trump had an eventful day in Iowa, watching as Gov. Terry E. Branstad said that Ted Cruz, Mr. Trumps chief rival, would be a disaster for the state, and holding a rally where Mr. Trump revealed the major endorsement that had been a source of heavy speculation and that could give his conservative credentials a big push.

With 13 days until the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, the senator from Texas, are deploying different surrogates but similar playbooks in the state, where the Republican electorate is conservative and where each is trying hard to win.

Mr. Trump’s closing argument began on Tuesday evening with the endorsement of Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008, who built a grass-roots following from the ashes of defeat that year. Mrs. Palin could be a significant help to Mr. Trump, certainly in terms of news media attention.

But much of the coverage of her endorsement speech was negative. Pundits and reporters took note of her rambling, edgy-seeming, sometimes-rhyming presentation in Iowa, with Mr. Trump standing nearby, occasionally looking as if he wished it would wrap up.

That may not matter much, since Mrs. Palin’s supporters are mistrustful of the “lamestream media,” as she has described the press in recent years. And Mr. Cruz’s team was mindful enough of the potential impact of her endorsement that he clarified a negative comment from his spokesman about her support for Mr. Trump.

But some Republicans see an upside for Mr. Cruz in the performance of Mrs. Palin, who, like Mr. Trump, has reality television star as a line on her résumé and who has been absent from the national scene for many months.

Those Republicans argue that Mrs. Palin and Mr. Trump could make Mr. Cruz look more presidential.

But 2016 has been an unusual, and unpredictable, cycle. Mr. Cruz has criticized government subsidies of the renewable fuels industry in Iowa, but, instead of being praised by small-government conservatives, he was denounced by Mr. Branstad, Iowa’s Republican governor, and few others came to Mr. Cruz’s defense. And Mrs. Palin’s support was seen as a boon for Mr. Trump, despite Republicans’ frustration with what they see as a “celebrity” president in Barack Obama.

Her endorsement has also raised expectations for Mr. Trump in Iowa. It is a state that he can afford to lose, but it becomes harder to explain away a loss if he campaigns hard there. However, Mr. Trump is not used to losing, and he does not seem interested in starting now.