Sarah Palin says 'waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.' Too tough?

The one-liner by Sarah Palin went over great with the NRA crowd. But the outrage elsewhere was immediate – and interestingly, criticism of Palin came from several directions.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during a campaign rally for Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst, Sunday, April 27, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Sarah Palin has rallied and riled lots of voters in her political career, but she might have hit a new high for controversy over the weekend by saying “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists” during a speech at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The one-liner went over great with the crowd. It summarized well a main point of her address, which held that liberals are hypocrites who are too weak to protect America.

Not that Ms. Palin just called them “liberals.” In the speech, they were “clownish little 'Kumbaya'-humming fairy-tale-inhaling liberals.” They’re the sort of folks who believe that a thin tin “No Gun Zone” sign will protect kids in schools, according to the former VP candidate.

“That is stupid on steroids,” Palin said.

Outrage was immediate. But the interesting thing about this reaction was that criticism came from several directions.

On the one hand, you had left-leaning types rising to the bait. At the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” blog, Martin Longman opined that the whole thing is an elaborate revenge upon Sen. John McCain (R), in which Palin knowingly says things that will make him cringe as payback for not supporting her enough after picking her as his running mate in 2008.

Senator McCain is an adamant opponent of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, you see. He’s the only presidential candidate to have been a prisoner of war and suffered torture from America’s enemies.

“I have a theory that Sarah Palin has the intent to humiliate John McCain as often as possible. Maybe it’s because McCain wouldn’t let her give her own concession speech,” Mr. Longman writes.

But Palin also got some pushback from conservatives who felt her comment was sacrilegious. Thus you got an unusual Palin Venn diagram in which there was some intersection between left and right sets in terms of reaction.

In the Christian catechism, baptism is a voluntary act that can point toward eternal life, writes Mollie Hemingway at the right-leaning site The Federalist. It’s unlikely Palin thinks that is what waterboarding terror suspects can accomplish.

“Joking about baptism in the context of this aggressive action suggests that we don’t think baptism is as life-giving or important as it is,” Ms. Hemingway writes.

Interestingly, this uproar arises simultaneously with the publication of a long story in The Washington Post suggesting that Palin has become a diminished figure within the Republican Party, outshone among tea party conservatives by Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and other newly rising figures.

The piece – by Post reporter Robert Costa, a former National Review staffer with good connections in the conservative political firmament – says that grass-roots candidates still seek Palin’s endorsement but that her obvious disinclination to run again for any electoral post has caused many former supporters to move on.

“Palin is finding herself in more of a supporting slot, and her best-attended rallies this year have been with [Senator Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah],” Mr. Costa writes.

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