Last month at a conference in Washington D.C., former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt was asked how he expected to be portrayed in Sarah Palin's upcoming book.
Not well, he replied. He wasn't wrong.
In an advance copy of her new book, which was obtained by the Huffington Post on Friday, the vice presidential candidate who took the political world by storm only to abruptly resign as governor of Alaska, airs plenty of dirty laundry. Clocking in at over 400 pages, "Going Rogue" is, at its heart, one giant complaint about the conduct of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. At the nexus of Palin's grievances lies Schmidt, a character cast as out of touch, overly cautious, and vindictive.
The relationship between vice presidential candidate and the campaign manager doesn't start off on the rocks -- but it ends there. And though she claims they were "very comfortable with each other right off the bat," she also describes Schmidt as "business to the bone." During her vetting Schmidt plays it cool. When Palin admits "the one skeleton [she'd] kept hidden in [her] closet for the past twenty-two years," Schmidt "didn't bat an eye" -- though he does "wince" when she mentions God. That oh-so-dark secret, incidentally, is a D-grade Palin received in a college course.
Palin complains of being "told to sit down and shut up" when she "spoke on the trail about Obama's associations with questionable characters." She bemoans the campaign's unwillingness to tackle "Obama's pastor of twenty years, Jeremiah 'God Damn America' Wright."
"I will forever question the campaign for prohibiting discussion of such association," she writes. "All the more since these telltale signs of Obama's views, carefully concealed with centrist campaign-speak have now been brought into the light by his appointments and actions in office."
She even remarks about how Schmidt's penchant for vulgarity offended her. Writing about the preparation the campaign was conducting for the vice-presidential debates, she recounts the campaign manager declaring that moderator Gwen Ifill is "going to f*** with you?"
"I'm thinking," writes Palin, "Why are you telling me this? Last minute... what's the point? And no more f-bombs around Piper, please?"
Peppered throughout are a stream of insulting descriptions of Schmidt and others of the "professional political caste." Schmidt is "grim-faced" and "cool." The campaign handlers had a "jaded aura" about them. Palin writes: "But I did notice... funny things [about the handlers] that even Piper commented on -- such as tumbling out of the bus in a pack, lighting cigarettes as they went so it looked like a walking smoke cloud with legs."
Eventually the animosity grew quite personal. At one point during the campaign, Schmidt discusses his hopes of getting a nutritionist on the bus. Palin, first assuming that it's for the entire staff, compliments the idea. Only then, does Schmidt tell her, "No, it's for you... You gotta get off that Atkins Diet." Palin, writing up the incident months later, couldn't help but comment on Schmidt's "rotund physique."
I had to do a mental double take.
The Atkins bars -- that must be it. They were everywhere, in every hotel room and on every snack table along the trail. They were great, when I didn't have time to slow down and eat, but I didn't know why they were all over the place.
"I'm not on the Atkins Diet, Steve."
"Don't you know what a high-protein diet does?" he asked, ignoring what I had just said.
He then launched into a discussion of nutrition physiology, holding forth on the importance of carbohydrates to cognitive connections and blah-blah-blah. As he lectured, I took in his rotund physique and noted that he used nicotine to keep his own cognitive connections humming along.
I interrupted his lecture. "Steve, you know what I really need? Half an hour to go for a run in these beautiful cities we're visiting. Also, seeing my kids does wonders for my soul."
He barreled on as if I hadn't spoken. "Headquarters is flying in a nutritionist, and for three days you're going to be on a diet balanced in carbohydrates and nitrates and --"
I'm a forty-four year old, healthy, athletic woman raising five kids and governing a large state, I thought as his words faded into a background buzz. Sir, I really don't know you yet. But you've told me how to dress, what to say, who to talk to, a lot of people not to talk to, who my heroes are supposed to be and we're still losing. Now you're going to tell me what to eat?
Regrets, indeed, are everywhere in "Going Rogue". And blame always seems to fall on someone else. Palin laments the indecisiveness about how to deal with Saturday Night Live's parodies of her, writing that the campaign simply should have taken her advice and gone on the show earlier.
Her soured relationship with the local press -- originally "fine" and even helpful -- was also the campaign's fault. The McCain campaign, complained Palin, wouldn't allow her to "speak her heart and mind."
"Just stick with the script," Schmidt would say. "Ultimately," she writes, "this hurt the campaign to a degree the 'experts' could never grasp." She gives anecdotes detailing incidents where the McCain campaign directly -- sometimes physically -- stopped her from reaching out to reporters.
I moved to go speak with him [a reporter from Anchorage], but a campaign handler grabbed my elbow and said, "No, no, no ... this way." A few minutes later on my way out of the building I saw the same reporter and photographer back behind a rope line.
He yelled out "Alaska!" But as I tried to holler back, different pairs of hands hustled me into the campaign's Suburban. It was not a respectful thing to do. I had turned my back on our own local press. Right then and there, I knew it wasn't going to be good.
It wasn't. In a televised report about the campaign, that reporter wrapped it up this way: "And the Sarah Palin we once knew, is gone."
I wasn't. But I couldn't blame him for thinking so.
Palin makes clear it was the "packaging" the campaign managers wrapped her in -- never the package inside -- that led to her failed candidacy.
Now I was in the hands of "campaign professionals", and it was my first encounter with the unique way of thinking that characterizes this elite and highly specialized guild. In Alaska, we don't really have these kinds of people -- they are a feature of national politics. Naturally enough, as the experts, they are used to being in charge. But no matter how "expert" any of them was, nothing had apparently prepared them for the unprecedented onslaught of rumors, lies, and innuendo that "packaging" would have on my candidacy.
The decision to purchase designer clothes for the trail -- a major embarrassment for the campaign -- is, likewise, ascribed to aide Nicolle Wallace.
"I had a humbling experience while we were back in Wasilla for the Charlie Gibson interview in September," she writes. "While the crews turned my kitchen into a television studio, I took Nicolle into my bedroom and showed her what I thought I should pack for the trail. She flipped through my wardrobe with a raised eyebrow."
"No... no... no...," she said as she slid each garment aside on its hanger," Palin recalls.
She gasps over the expensive price of the nylons they provide for her. When describing her speech at the RNC, she snidely adds, "The kids looked great -- even in a bunch of borrowed clothes."
And the equally humiliating prank phone call Palin took from someone pretending to be French president Nicolas Sarkozy also ends with anger towards Schmidt.
By that time I'd received calls from presidents of other countries and our own, and had met elder statesmen and other dignitaries, so it didn't surprise us too much that we'd be speaking with the French leader.
He's got to be drunk, I thought.
I didn't want to offend the president of France, but this was getting stupid. I kept thinking, surely, someone will pop up and say something like, "Okay, the five minutes are up," but the call just went on and on and on. By now, I was thinking exit strategy. And I kept trying to laugh, even though it was increasingly unfunny.
Right away, the phones started ringing. One of the first calls was Schmidt, and the force of his screaming blew my hair back. "How can anyone be so stupid?! Why would the president of France call a vice presidential candidate a few days out?!"
Good question, I thought. Weren't you the ones who set this up?"
The anger between Palin and Schmidt eventually crests right as the prospects for the campaign begin their precipitous decline. In an incident that has been reported previously, Randy Scheuenemann -- a McCain foreign policy adviser and Palin loyalist -- charges into Schmidt's office after a series of articles surfaced with anonymous campaign aides whacking the vice presidential candidate
To this day, Randy - ever the gentleman - won't tell me everything that was said about the B Team. But a couple of examples tell the story. "They're screwing up,' Schmidt told Randy one day in Schmidt's office. "And the governor's not doing serious homework." Schmidt told Randy he thought I might be suffering from postpartum depression...
Randy laid out a very simply case: "Picking a running mate was John's most important decision, and being loyal to John means being loyal to his pick. That makes what's going on absolutely atrocious!"
Schmidt started in again, telling Randy what an awful pick I was -- the "postpartum" problems, the wardrobe "scandal," "legal exposure" for Todd on Troopergate, whatever he meant by that.
Somehow, Palin ends the story, "the Palins were responsible for all of the campaign's problems."
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