Conservative firebrand Sarah Palin joined Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Oklahoma Wednesday as part of her endorsement pledge in the increasingly intense race for the GOP nomination.
"Are you all ready to work to make America great again?" Palin asked a crowd of thousands packed into an arena at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, echoing Trump's campaign mantra.
Palin, who was absent from Trump's Wednesday morning event in Norwalk, Iowa, despite a scheduled appearance, rejoined the Trump campaign in Tulsa, warming up the crowd ahead of the candidate's speech. But Palin also struck a personal tone, alluding to problems her son and other returning military vets endure when returning to civilian life.
U.S. & World
"It's kind of the elephant in the room," she began, addressing her family's struggle.
Palin's oldest son, Track, was arrested earlier this week in a domestic violence case in which his girlfriend told police she was afraid he would shoot himself with a rifle. Track Palin was charged with assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possessing a weapon while intoxicated in connection with the incident.
"They come back a bit different. They come back a bit hardened," she said. "They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country. And that starts from the top," she said.
A spokeswoman for Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to questions about why Palin was a no show at the Iowa event.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, erupted onto the stage in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday, announcing her support for Trump and declaring "no more pussy-footing around."
"Yesterday was amazing in every way," Trump told supporters, as he kicked off another day of campaigning with less than two weeks to go before Iowa's kick-off caucuses. "Sarah came along and she said we love what's happening. It's a movement."
The endorsement comes as Trump is locked in a dead heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa. The two have been ramping up their attacks against one another as the Feb. 1 caucuses have neared.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Cruz said, "Regardless of what Sarah intends to do in 2016, I will remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin."
Palin endorsed Cruz in his 2012 Senate race and said as recently as last month that he and Trump were both in her top tier of candidates, making the endorsement a symbolic blow to Cruz.
"I think it throws a pie into Sen. Cruz's face," said Trump supporter Tim Oelschlager, 56, who was at Wednesday's event in Norwalk. "It's kind of like somebody barbecuing in your backyard, setting up a tent in your backyard."
In a phone interview with "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie Wednesday, Trump said Palin approached him about throwing her support behind his campaign in a "string-free" endorsement.
"She never said, 'Gee, I'd like to do this, I'd like to do that.' She never made a deal, like so many people want to try to make deals," he said. "She just said, 'I really like what's going on. It's an amazing thing. I've never seen anything like it in politics.'"
Asked whether he'd consider Palin being his vice-presidential running mate, Trump said he had not discussed anything with the fomer Alaska governor, but that there "certainly would be a role somewhere in the administration" for her if he was elected.
Palin was a virtual newcomer to the national political arena when 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain named her as his running mate. She has since risen to prominence as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the party. She signed on as a Fox News commentator after resigning as Alaska's governor in 2010, a job she held until last year.
Trump and Palin did not discuss how the endorsement had come about, but Trump's national political director, Michael Glassner, previously worked for her. Trump said earlier Tuesday that he doesn't typically put much stock in endorsements, but said of this one, "I think it could very well result in votes."
During his remarks in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump also zeroed in on Cruz, offering some of his most pointed attack lines yet. In addition to repeating questions about whether Cruz's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to be president, he also pointed to bank loans Cruz failed to disclose.
"Goldman Sachs owns him, remember that folks," Trump charged. "I think when you go to caucus, you should think about that problem."
Palin's endorsement speech Tuesday evening combined the folksy charm and everywoman appeal that initially made her a GOP superstar with defiant taunting of a "busted" GOP establishment that she slammed for counting both Trump and herself out.
Palin offered her full-throated support for Trump and slammed President Barack Obama as the "capitulator in chief." Trump, she said, would be a commander in chief who would "let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS' ass!"
She also took aim at the Republican establishment for "attacking their own front-runner" and offered a challenge to those who have suggested that Trump, whose positions on issues like gun control and abortion rights have shifted over the years, isn't conservative enough.
"Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservativism?" she said. "Who are they to tell us that we're not conservative enough? ... Give me a break."