Strife behind the speech Palin was not allowed to deliver

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  • Published 6.11.08

Phoenix, Nov. 6: As a top adviser in Senator John McCain’s now-imploded campaign tells the story, it was bad enough that governor Sarah Palin of Alaska unwittingly scheduled, and then took, a prank telephone call from a Canadian comedian posing as the President of France. Far worse, the adviser said, she failed to inform her ticket mate about her rogue diplomacy.

As a senior adviser in the Palin campaign tells the story, the charge is absurd. The call had been on Palin’s schedule for three days and she should not have been faulted if the McCain campaign was too clueless to notice.

Whatever the truth, one thing is certain. Palin, who laughingly told the prankster that she could be President “maybe in eight years”, was the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and McCain’s that raged from mid-September up until moments before McCain’s concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Palin was in only infrequent contact with McCain, top advisers said.

“I think it was a difficult relationship,” said one top McCain campaign official, who, like almost all others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. “McCain talked to her occasionally.”

But McCain’s advisers also described him as admiring of Palin’s political skills. He was aware of the infighting, they said, but it is unclear how much he was inclined or able to stop it.

The tensions and their increasingly public airing provide a revealing coda to the ill-fated McCain-Palin ticket, hinting at the mounting turmoil of a campaign that was described even by many Republicans as incoherent, negative and badly run.

For her part, Palin told reporters in Arizona yesterday morning that “there is absolutely no diva in me”.

Later in the day, she refused to address the strife within the campaigns. “I have absolutely no intention of engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me,” she said, adding that it was time to savour President-elect Barack Obama’s victory and “not let the pettiness or maybe internal workings of a campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment”.

As the ticket mate with a potentially brighter political future, Palin has more at stake going forward than McCain, whose aides now have an interest in blaming outside factors for their loss, making Palin a tempting target.

The tensions were described in interviews with top aides to the two campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be seen as disloyal to McCain’s effort at a difficult time.

Finger pointing at the end of a losing campaign is traditional and to a large degree predictable, as McCain himself acknowledged in a prescient interview in July.

Palin in Alaska

“Every book I’ve read about a campaign is that the one that won, it was a perfect and beautifully run campaign with geniuses running it and incredible messaging, etcetera,” McCain said then. “And always the one that lost, ‘oh, completely screwed up, too much infighting, bad people, etcetera.’ So if I win, I believe that historians will say, ‘way to go, he fine-tuned that campaign, and he got the right people in the right place and as the campaign grew, he gave them more responsibility.’ If I lose, people will say, ‘that campaign, always in disarray.’”

The disputes between the campaigns centred largely on the Republican national committee’s $150,000 wardrobe for Palin and her family, but also on what McCain advisers considered Palin’s lack of preparation for her disastrous interview with Katie Couric of CBS News and her refusal to take advice from McCain’s campaign.

But behind those episodes may be a greater subtext: anger within the McCain camp that Palin harboured political ambitions beyond 2008.

As late as on Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before McCain’s concession speech, even though vice-presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on election night. But Palin met McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, one of McCain’s closest advisers, and Steve Schmidt, McCain’s top strategist.