Palin pushes McCain staff aside as blame game begins

Jake Turcotte

Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as his theme for the 1992 presidential campaign. If reports of strife between Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign hold water, then the Alaska Governor might want to tap into Fleetwood Mac's library as well (assuming she wouldn't get sued, which is a big assumption). Her campaign song? "Go Your Own Way."

As most polls show Barack Obama pulling away from John McCain, there are rumblings and perhaps signs that Palin is pulling away as well.

They're not my staff

No, it doesn't appear that the Republican vice presidential candidate has any problems with McCain himself. But there are indications that she doesn't necessarily like his staff or has any future intention of following them.

Perhaps she gave up on following them earlier. Aides to McCain cite recent examples where Palin took things into her own hands. In Colorado last week, she insisted  on talking to reporters on a tarmac despite attempts by Palin staff to shut down the conversation. She also denounced McCain robo-calls. Before that, she was outspoken about her disappointment with the campaign decision to pull out of Michigan.

I'm done with 'em

Supporters of Palin say she's had it with the campaign staff.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the [campaign] plane," a Palin insider told Politico. He says she would like to further ignore staff advice and do things her own way.

But CNN reports campaign aides say she's a selfish renegade.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family, or anyone else."

Bad introduction

Palin has let it be known that she's not happy with the way she was introduced to the public following her speech at the Republican National Convention. Her supporters say the real Sarah Palin is the one who electrified the crowd that night in early September.

Yes, she had a teleprompter at that event. But they say she's a natural and if she was able to interact with the media from the beginning instead of being quarantined from the press for nearly three weeks, the results would have been different.

Perhaps this is true. The New York Times has a detailed story this morning that could back that -- or at least demonstrate that McCain aides were impressed with how she handled questions even on issues she was unfamiliar with. The story, in discussing how Palin was selected as the running mate, recounts campaign manager Rick Davis's reaction to how she dealt with the press.

One tape in particular struck Davis as arresting: an interview with Palin and Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona Democrat, on “The Charlie Rose Show” that was shown in October 2007. Reviewing the tape, it didn’t concern Davis that Palin seemed out of her depth on health-care issues or that, when asked to name her favorite candidate among the Republican field, she said, “I’m undecided.” What he liked was how she stuck to her pet issues — energy independence and ethics reform — and thereby refused to let Rose manage the interview.

Not ready for prime time

The public, especially with her interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric, saw an uncomfortable, tightly scripted Palin who would - like a magnet - gravitate back to talking points instead of engaging in a real conversation. The series of interviews were cringe-inducing and gave Saturday Night Live an abundance of material.

Sensing a sinking ship, reports are that some McCain staffers in attempts to save themselves from being blamed for a McCain - Palin loss are beginning to point fingers. And in this case directly at the VP nominee, according to CNN.

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

She is ready

That's not the Sarah Palin the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes knows.

"When I spent nearly two hours with Palin last year at the governor's house in Juneau, I was struck by three things. She's very smart, brimming with self-confidence, and not intimidated by the media."

Properly vetted or not?

And further, if she is was as ill-prepared as some McCain staffers are saying, then it would suggest that she was never properly vetted -- something that was angrily taken off the table for discussion by the McCain team six weeks ago.

But they can't have it both ways. Either she was properly vetted or not. If she was properly vetted, then they knew what they were getting into. If she was not properly vetted, then they can only blame themselves for the selection.

This morning's New York Times article would suggest the vetting was not as thorough as the McCain team had implied.

The following night, after McCain’s speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign’s senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: “Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?”The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”

She would have done fine

Even if she wasn't up to speed on the issues, many believe she would have been fine without the handling overkill by the McCain staff.

Had she been able to interact with the media as she innately knows how to things would have been different. At least Fred Barnes believes that.

"But [campaign advisers] simply didn't trust her to perform adequately in those settings. She would need weeks of intense training and study. They were wrong, and at Palin's expense. But they simply didn't trust her to perform adequately in those settings."


As far as the media now go, she may be the most accessible candidate of the four. And controversy continues to follow her. Every time the McCain team tries to create traction, another controversy emerges.

The $150,000 clothing tab is the latest misadventure to hit the campaign. Speaking to Politico, an unknown supporter assigns blame to the campaign.

"It's completely out-of-control operatives," said the close ally outside the campaign. "She has no responsibility for that. It's incredibly frustrating for us and for her."

Regardless, she wasn't afraid to bring it up this morning at a rally in Tampa. In fact, she seemed to revel in it.

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