Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sarah Palin Campaign A "Train Wreck"

Fresh details emerged today of the backroom dramas as Sarah Palin alarmed her campaign managers with a string of gaffes during her run for vice-president in 2008.

Race of a Lifetime, a new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin which is serialised in The Times this week, reveals that advisers to John McCain were taken aback by how little Mrs Palin knew about politics and history when she was confirmed as Mr McCain's Republican running mate after a cursory, 12-hour selection process.

"You guys have a lot of work to do," Steve Schmidt, Mr McCain's campaign chief, is said to have told the experts he had recruited to tutor her. "She doesn't know anything."

Heilemann and Halperin write: "Palin couldn't explain why North Korea and South Korea were separate nations. She didn't know what the Fed [the Federal Reserve] did. Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank. Later, on the plane, Palin said to her team: 'I wish I'd paid more attention to this stuff'."

The authors say that, after "cramming furiously", writing newly acquired facts on white index cards that she studied at night, Mrs Palin managed to emerge intact from an interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC News, a "success" that led to the unwise decision to grant Katie Couric of CBS News the right to conduct a multi-part television interview. The move was a public relations disaster for the McCain camp.

"When Couric asked her to name examples of McCain's efforts to regulate the economy, Palin said: 'I'll try to find some and bring them to you'. Asked about the relevance of Russia's closeness to Alaska, she replied: 'As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the USA, where do they go? It's Alaska'," the authors relate.

Yesterday, in the first serialised extract in The Times, it emerged that Mrs Palin became so overwhelmed by her preparation for one of the Couric interviews that she announced, "I hate this make-up". She smeared it off her face, "messing up her hair, complaining that she looked fat".

Today the authors reveal that the failures affected Mrs Palin's nerves. "Palin flew to Philadelphia to spend the next week concentrating on debate prep. The next two days were a total train wreck. Never before had Palin's team seen her so profoundly out of sorts for such a sustained period. She wasn't eating (a few small bites of steak a day, no more). She wasn't drinking (maybe half a can of Dr Pepper; no water, ever). She wasn't sleeping (not much more than a couple of hours a night, max).

"The index cards were piling up by the hundreds, but Palin wasn't absorbing the material written on them. When her aides tried to quiz her, she would routinely shut down – chin on her chest, arms folded, eyes cast to the floor, speechless and motionless, lost in what those around her described as a kind of catatonic stupor."

Asked if the preparations weren't worth it for the prospect of power, Mrs Palin is said to have replied darkly: "No. If I'd known everything I know now, I would not have done this."

One of her advisers sent an urgent SOS to McCain headquarters, the authors continue. "They began discussing a new and threatening possibility: that Palin was mentally unstable."

She cheered up when she was plucked out of the fetid hotel room where the failed cramming session had taken place to the more comfortable surroundings of Mr McCain's ranch, with a doctor on hand, the authors relate. But Mrs Palin continued to alarm campaign managers with her howlers as she prepared for her head-to-head debate with Joe Biden, the Democrat vice-presidential candidate.

"She continued to stumble over an unavoidable element: her rival's name. Over and over, Palin referred to Obama's running mate as 'Senator Obiden' – or was it 'O'Biden'? – and the corrections weren't sticking." In the event, Mrs Palin famously strode on stage, stuck her hand out and said: "Hey, can I call you Joe?"

Soon Mrs Palin began to show a still more disturbing propensity, the authors write. "It wasn't long before the signs appeared that Palin was going rogue. She thrashed Obama for 'palling around with terrorists'. Palin said that Obama's pastor, Rev Jeremiah Wright, should be fair game and implicitly criticised McCain for not leading the charge."

They write that Mr McCain was shielded from the full force of his own campaign team's dismay at Mrs Palin's unfitness for office, but that his staffers held serious discussions about what to do if he won the election, placing Mrs Palin's hands on the levers of power.

"Some in McCainworld were ridden with guilt over elevating Palin to within striking distance of the White House," the authors claim, adding that while Mrs Palin's fans in the US public continued to cheer her on, the national media and political establishments – once so ready to give her a chance – dismissed her as "a hick on a high wire".

More than a year on, Mrs Palin remains hugely popular in the US, particularly with members of the grassroots "tea party movement' of disaffected conservatives who fear that Mr Obama is leading America towards socialism. She has more than 1.1 million Facebook followers.

In July she stepped down as Governor of Alaska, a move that surprised her supporters and fuelled speculation on her next career step – with predictions ranging from seeking the presidency in 2012 to hosting a conservative talk show.

She told Barbara Walters in an interview in November that a presidential bid in 2012 was not on her radar, but did not rule out playing some kind of role in the next US presidential election. She has recently enjoyed success with her best-selling memoir Going Rogue, which was published four months after she left office.

Today it emerged that she is to take her conservative message to Fox News as a regular commentator. The US cable channel said that she would offer political commentary and analysis on its TV programming, its website, radio network and business cable channel.

She also will host occasional episodes of Real American Stories, a new series intended to feature inspirational tales about Americans who have overcome adversity.

"Governor Palin has captivated everyone on both sides of the political spectrum and we are excited to add her dynamic voice to the Fox News line-up," Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming, said in a statement.

Mrs Palin said in a statement posted on the network's website: "It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news."

Race of a Lifetime, published yesterday, is based on more than 200 interviews with the 2008 candidates and their staffs, and has already caused controversy in Washington.

It forced Senator Harry Reid into a humiliating apology to Mr Obama at the weekend for describing him as a "light-skinned" African-American with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one".

from The London Times

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