Are conservatives deserting Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, on 8 March, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sarah Palin is facing a backlash over a joke about waterboarding baptisms

Sarah Palin has long been a bete noire of the left, but she has always been able to count support from grass-roots conservatives. At least, until now.

During a speech to members of the National Rifle Association this weekend, Ms Palin cracked a joke that - while being well-received by the crowd - didn't go over as well with many Christian commentators, many of whom considered her an ally.

"They obviously have information on plots to carry out jihad," she said, referring to prisoners. "Oh, but you can't offend them, can't make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptise terrorists."

For The American Conservative's Rod Dreher, Ms Palin's statement is "sacrilegious". He says that those who laughed at the joke should be ashamed of themselves. Baptism, he says, should be about starting a new life, not celebrating torture.

"If I thought that kind of hateful declaration and abuse of the Christian religion was what conservatism stood for, I wouldn't be able to call myself a conservative," he writes.

Dreher isn't the only religious conservative unhappy with Ms Palin's jibe.

Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition says that while it is "suicidal" to try to find tolerance and understanding within those who want to destroy the US, dehumanising the country's enemies is just as bad.

"Like us, our enemies need to accept Jesus and to be baptised by water and the Spirit," he writes. "That is the Christian way, not as Palin would have it, to have our enemies fear a pagan god and have their spirit broken by water."

The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway agrees.

"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," she writes.

Hemingway says that while she is a longtime supporter of Ms Palin, these latest remarks cross the line. In her eyes, Ms Palin is using religion for a political endgame, and while this type of "civil religion" definitely unites people politically, it comes at the expense of the church.

The Wonkette's Doktor Zoom lampooned Hemingway's criticisms, poking fun at her for missing the mark on exactly why Ms Palin's comments were inappropriate.

"You just see here, now, Ms Palin, we don't so much mind you sticking it to the godless heathen Muslims, but don't you go joking about the sacraments," he writes.

In fact, he says, it can be difficult to pin down just what is so out of line about Ms Palin's statement.

"We're not sure what the most hilarious part of this line is - the desire to live out [conservative commentator] Ann Coulter's dream of victory through forced conversion, the mistaken belief that torture gets reliable intelligence or the very notion that Sarah Palin will ever be in charge of anything but a third-rate cable TV show," he concludes.

While it is well known that Ms Palin is no longer a real politician, writes Patrick Brennan for National Review, she still stands for a group of people who are serious about the ideas of faith and freedom. He asks why any of her supporters would continue to back her after what she said.

"Torture - waterboarding being something reasonable people may consider to constitute it - is and should be a question of grave moral consequence for Christians, and is for any Catholic familiar with the Catechism," he writes.

By some coincidence, Palin's remarks came just hours before Robert Costa of the Washington Post published an article that outlines the former governor's political decline and the diminishing power her endorsements hold.

"Even as she travels to Iowa and elsewhere to bolster her handpicked candidates," he writes, "her influence in these midterm elections has been eclipsed by a new class of stars and her circle has narrowed, with a handful of aides guiding her and a few allies in Washington beyond a group of backbench troublemakers in Congress."

Ms Palin was part of the trendy 2010 Tea Party movement, he says, but increasingly among her friends in Washington she finds herself in a supporting role.

And for some, including Politicus USA's Jason Easley, it's about time.

"Sarah Palin is the one hit wonder who started out playing arenas, then moved down to the clubs, then moved further down to the county fair circuit," he writes.

"When you stop drawing a crowd on the county fair circuit, it's over. The media is finally catching on that it is time to ignore Sarah Palin."

By Kierran Petersen

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