Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarah's Side of the Story

In light of the recent "revelations" by Schmidt and others, I thought I'd let Sarah tell her side of things. From Going Rogue, starting on page 279:

Mark sequestered a small debate prep team in a hotel room with the curtains drawn, blotting out the sunlight. My experience had taught me that you can work well with a diverse team, even people you don't know, if you make the atmosphere upbeat and positive. Whoever was leading this team, though, turned it into a high-pressure penalty box.

I understood the stakes. I knew that the McCain ticket was on the ropes and that top campaign staffers were unnerved. I got that. But I had a different perspective than some of the principals on the team as to how we should deal with this reality.

We were all wired pretty much the same way - intense and focused - but when things weren't going well, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in a darkened room and hear strange people yelling at one another.....

During debate prep, I had been given stacks of five-by-eight index cards....It was funny because on one side of each card, there was a question and on the other side there were a whole bunch of what most people would consider nonanswers:

FRONT OF CARD: What will it take to win the war in Afghanistan?

BACK OF CARD: The world is better off for the fact that the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan.
I said to the prep people, "Okay, but what they're asking is, what will it take to win the war?"

"Right," somebody said. "But you don't have to answer the question....."

The bottom line is these were political answers - and I couldn't force myself to play it safe and sound like a politician. On top of that, there were probably ten cards for every single topic with a different set of nonanswers on every one. So in the end I'm thinking - Okay, which nonanswer do you want me to give?

Or here's an idea - I could give a real answer....

I kept a stack of the cards as a souvenir. I wish I had kept them all because I scribbled a lot of notes in the margins, probably some not fit for public consumption....

I liked my simpler style because it meant I never had to spin, I never had to B.S., and, good or bad, I never had to struggle to remember what I had said the last time....

What I should've said was, "Look, I get it. Our numbers aren't good, this debate is a big deal, but this stuffy, dark hotel room with a bunch of crabby guys isn't working. So get some fresh air and let's come back and tackle this with clear minds...."

All I needed to hear was what John's position was on any particular issue. Then I could either formulate a response that would support it wholeheartedly or carefully articulate my own slightly different perspective....

[After Steve Schmidt suggests that flying in a nutritionist for Sarah will solve everything, Sarah sits there and thinks to herself] -

I'm a forty-four-year-old, healthy, athletic woman raising five kids and governing a large state. 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?....

[After the transfer of debate prep to McCain's ranch] -

During rehearsals, I accidentally called Randy "Senator O'Biden" - a slip-of-the-lip combination of Obama and Biden. The blunder struck too often, even tripping up campaign staffers. (Jay Leno later made the same slip on his new talk show, so we were in good company.) We laughed about it but knew that if I said it even once during the debates, it would be disastrous.

Then somebody said, "You ought to just call him Joe."

"Oh, I can't just call him Joe!" I said. Senator Biden was a senior statesman. He'd been sitting in the U.S. Senate since I was nine years old. I believed calling him by his first name without his permission would be disrespectful.

Randy seemed to read my thoughts and offered a solution. "In every debate, you cross the stage and shake hands with your opponent," he said. "When you shake hands, just as him for permission to call him Joe. He's certainly going to say yes, because he's a gentleman."

So that's what we decided to do. We had no idea my mic would already be hot when I walked onstage, crossed over to his turf, and said, "Can I call you Joe?"

The "expert" postdebate analysis was that my question was a cleverly devised strategy to disarm my opponent. Yeah, right....

Now, my friends and family sure knew the truth....And those campaign folks, especially those who had vetted and chosen me, also knew the truth. But as the story grew legs, they didn't lift a finger to correct the record. I couldn't understand why until I realized that by the end of the campaign, the wardrobe fairy tale had become convenient. By then, with Obama soaring and our own ticket in free fall, one or two of the campaign's big dogs were already packing their parachutes....

[Randy confronted Schmidt at the end of the campaign] -

Randy finished reading the story. "I don't believe this!" he yelled. "Those guys have gone too far this time!"

It may not be unusual for major-ticket advisors to struggle internally over who calls the shots, or to offer only tepid public support to one half of the ticket or the other, Randy later told me. But it is unheard of for campaign staffers to brazenly throw a candidate under the bus with sleazy anonymous comments.

Randy stormed toward Schmidt's office and confronted his secretary. "Where is he? I want his cell number right now....."

Randy slammed the door and told Steve what he really thought. "It is unbelievable that advisers - senior advisers - are calling the press and telling them the vice presidential candidate is a diva! This is unprecedented! It's unacceptable!...."

Randy laid out a very simple 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 the Palins were responsible for all of the campaign's problems.

"That is absolutely outrageous!" Randy said. He started to walk out of the office, but Schmidt issued a threat that was veiled enough for deniability but clear as day if you were on the receiving end: if there were any more leaks critical of anybody in the handling of Sarah Palin, then a lot more negative stuff would be said about Sarah Palin....

At the time, I was just focused on finishing strong. I want to believe the tension between Schmidt and the B Team was a result of less-than-ideal circumstances in the pressure cooker of a national campaign, and that it wasn't personal. But as I realized back in my Wasilla mayor days, life is too short to hold a grudge. If I ever see Schmidt again, maybe I'll bring him a white Peace Lily.

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