Todd Palin endorses Newt Gingrich. Is Sarah next?

Newt Gingrich gleefully tweeted that Todd Palin has endorsed him for president. Why does he care? Well, Todd's endorsement could be seen as a proxy endorsement from Sarah Palin. 

Alex Brandon/AP/File
Sarah Palin, former GOP vice presidential candidate, talks with her daughter Piper, who is sitting behind her father, Todd Palin, at the Rolling Thunder ride from Pentagon last Memorial Day weekend in Washington.

Todd Palin has endorsed Newt Gingrich, if you haven’t heard. ABC News broke this story earlier today. The former Alaska First Dude said everybody in the GOP race was fine, but that he admired the way Mr. Gingrich had soldiered forward following the resignation of his staff last summer.

Gingrich’s campaign has “burst out of the political arena and touched many Americans,” Mr. Palin told ABC.

Of course, Palin père had not actually talked to the Gingrich team before giving them the nod, which is, um, unusual in endorsement politics. But the ex-speaker quickly said that he’s proud to have the endorsement of the world-class snowmobiler who happens to be Sarah Palin’s husband.

“Honored to be endorsed by Todd Palin. President Obama has failed. We need a Bold Reagan Conservative in the White House,” tweeted Newt.

Does this matter? Twitter was aflame with humor about this move on Monday, with many jokes running along the lines of, “Bet this wraps up the South Carolina snow machine vote,” or “Todd Palin endorses Newt: Hopes to be Secretary of Duct Tape.”

Ha ha. We’re here to say it matters more than you think. OK, maybe it’s not a huge deal, but it has some significance. Otherwise Gingrich, who is a pretty shrewd guy, would just have let the accolade drop unanswered.

The point to be made here is in fact relatively obvious: Gingrich hopes to equate Todd’s nod with Sarah. A Palin endorsement would be a big help for someone whose campaign could be ended by a poor showing in South Carolina. It would give Gingrich more tea party bona fides in his competition with Rick Santorum for the non-Mitt Romney primary slot.

Sarah Palin herself has been coy about an endorsement. Recently she even warned the GOP against alienating Ron Paul’s voters, lest the Texas libertarian bolt and mount a third-party bid. It’s possible she won’t endorse anyone, or is holding off until she sees whether social conservatives rally around a single candidate in their effort to deny Mr. Romney the nomination.

Endorsements matter, after all. As New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver points out, they are important measures of party and institutional support. They may not win votes per se, but they communicate a candidate’s relative strength to the media and political insiders.

And in Mr. Silver’s rough listing of how important endorsements are, the nod of former national candidates ranks as high as any. (No, we know she didn’t run this year – she was a VP candidate in 2008. Remember?)

According to Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza, the most important kind of an endorsement is a symbolic one, such as Ted Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama in 2008. Mr. Obama touted Mr. Kennedy’s backing as evidence that he was the candidate of the old guard, true Democrats. A Palin endorsement might have something of the same cachet on the GOP side.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Todd may have been freelancing. Right now, he may be getting in trouble with his wife. But it’s hard to not see him as a stand-in for Sarah, providing Gingrich with a sort of semi-Palin endorsement that allows the former Alaska governor to still stand somewhat outside the current Republican contest.

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