(Note: This post was put together before the breaking news today that Princess Sarah has resigned.)
(CBS) The tension between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and top McCain campaign aides in the closing days of last fall’s presidential campaign is elucidated in a profile in the new issue of Vanity Fair.
Internal campaign e-mails exchanged three weeks before Election Day offer a rare look at just how frustrated then Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin had become with the manner in which top McCain campaign aides were handling her candidacy. The e-mails, obtained exclusively, also highlight the power struggle and thinly veiled acrimony that pervaded the relationship between Palin and the campaign’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt.
The episode in question began when an investigative report published on the left-leaning Web site Salon.com raised questions about Palin’s relationship with members of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) when she was mayor of Wasilla. The AIP’s platform calls for a vote giving Alaskans the option to secede from the United States. It had already been widely known that Todd Palin was a registered member of the AIP from 1995 to 2002 and that Governor Palin had taped a recorded greeting at the party’s 2008 convention.
On the morning of Oct. 15, Palin was aboard her campaign jet and en route to New Hampshire when she happened to catch a disparaging CNN segment that touted the Salon.com story, complete with a provocative graphic at the bottom of the screen reading, “THE PALINS AND THE FRINGE.”
While shaking hands after a rally later that afternoon, someone on the rope line shouted a remark at Palin about the AIP.
The comment set her off.
Palin blasted out an e-mail with the subject line “Todd” to Schmidt, campaign manager Rick Davis and senior advisor Nicolle Wallace, copying her husband on the message[…]
“Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today – two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party,” Palin wrote. “It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it … Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.”
Her reference to a single protestor’s sign and “many shout-outs” was indicative of Palin’s occasional tendency to take anecdotal evidence of a minor problem and extrapolate it into something far more menacing.
Schmidt hit “reply to all” less than five minutes after Palin’s e-mail was sent. “Ignore it,” he wrote. “He was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.”
This clear cut response from the campaign’s top dog carried an air of finality, but it did not satisfy Palin. She responded with another e-mail, adding five more names to the “cc” box, all of whom traveled on her campaign plane. They included her senior political adviser Tucker Eskew, senior aide Jason Recher, the lone traveling aide from her Alaska office Kris Perry, press secretary Tracey Schmitt and personal assistant Bexie Nobles.
Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the e-mail chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed.
“That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan,” Palin wrote. “He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.”
Palin was attempting to bend the facts ever so slightly to fit neatly into her version of events. In truth, the box that Alaskans have the option of checking when registering to vote states the full name of the party, “Alaskan Independence Party,” not “Alaska Independent,” which would make an error by uncommitted voters more plausible.
Clearly irritated by what he saw as Palin’s attempt to mislead her own campaign and apparently determined to demonstrate that the ultimate authority rested with him, Schmidt put the matter to rest once and for all with a longer response to everyone in the e-mail chain.
“Secession,” he wrote. “It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country
We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.”
[Schmidt’s] unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.
Palin was silent after his second e-mail and the campaign did not issue the statement she demanded.
Reached on his cell phone on Wednesday, Schmidt declined to comment on the e-mail exchange. “I was proud to work for the McCain-Palin ticket,” he said.
Jason Recher, who remains a staunch Palin supporter and recently accompanied the governor on a trip to New York, said he hoped people would focus more on positive memories from the campaign.
“These internal communications and debates are in reference to a campaign that no longer exists,” Recher said.