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Prall: Is Ernst the new Palin?

BY JACOB PRALL | JANUARY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will deliver the GOP response to tonight’s State of the Union Address. The nod from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., places her once more in the national spotlight, and she will become the first first-year senator to deliver the response.

The importance of her appointment is debatable. The Press-Citizen recently spoke with Drake political-science Professor Dennis Goldford, who contended that few will watch the address and even fewer the GOP response. The nation as a whole may have little interest in the State of the Union, but in D.C., many are all ears.

Democrats paying attention may note Ernst’s aggressive view of the president. She has called him a “dictator” and supports impeachment. Symbolically, the move to promote Ernst appears not to be an olive branch from Congress but a spear. Here’s to hoping the relationship between the legislative and executive branches becomes a productive one.

Ernst fills me with a feeling of déjà vu. She is a staunch conservative female from a rural background with a strong message of support for working and middle-class America. Not too long ago, there was another in who fit this description. I am, of course, referring to the All-American Alaskan Sarah Palin.

Palin was a gambit by the GOP to modify its appearance. Female voters are famous for not checking “Republican” when ballot season comes around, and Palin might have changed that. Unfortunately, she backfired in the face of the Republican Party. I won’t place blame on her, however. She was propelled into the spotlight by the GOP and fell face first into celebrity status.

Here’s a new word: celebritization. Ernst holds the potential that Palin did for the GOP. Past attempts to rebrand the party have largely failed. Perhaps that’s because instead of changing GOP policies, Republicans change the faces that preach them. Ernst may very well become a player on a national stage. She is poised to build bridges between conservatives and women.

Follow Ernst’s political career with interest. I would not be surprised if in a few years time she is a contender for the VP ticket. If not her career, follow Ernst’s public image. She first attained national attention with her “pig castration” ads. If she doesn’t find a new flashy statement to garner attention, she may fade into obscurity. If she decides to make waves as a character in the Senate, the nation will see much more of her. Palin wasn’t the ideal voice for the GOP. She was often mocked for making outlandish remarks. Ernst will probably be a better conversationalist.

That said, the GOP should be cautious. Its previous attempt to push an Ernst-esque image into the foreground led to a reality show. The GOP turned a lawmaker into a celebrity, someone fit to be featured in Us Weekly rather than the Washington Post.


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