Sarah Palin, a “Little Shop of Horrors”

A scathing article in Vanity Fair paints the governor as incurious, egotistical and hated by McCain staffers

Topics: 2008 Elections, Sarah Palin, War Room, John McCain, R-Ariz., Bristol Palin,

Since her sudden arrival on the national political stage last August, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has seldom missed an opportunity to make herself the center of attention. Even now, with the 2008 presidential campaign in the rearview mirror, Palin has kept herself in the spotlight — though arguably not for the right reasons. She’s feuded with David Letterman, befuddled some Republican fundraisers with her behavior, and refused stimulus cash only to later accept it. These incidents, coupled with her family’s continued tabloid dramas, seem more like the actions of a celebrity desperate for attention than a 2012 presidential hopeful.

There may be a reason for this. In a devastatingly critical piece in Vanity Fair’s August issue, Todd Purdum paints Palin as a narcissistic egomaniac unable to take the advice of others. Purdum writes:

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy” — and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”

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Purdum, a national editor for Vanity Fair who’s also the husband of former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, connects Palin’s ambitious personality to the perception held by McCain staffers that she was constantly selfish during the campaign.

Purdum spoke to numerous people who have worked with Palin, both in Alaska and during the presidential campaign. The former McCain staffers, who all spoke anonymously, seem to have a special loathing for Palin. A longtime McCain friend describes Palin as a “Little Shop of Horrors,” and Purdum says that many of those who served on McCain’s team are now experiencing what he terms “survivor’s guilt.” Purdum writes of the former members of McCain’s campaign:

[T]hey can’t quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, they worked their tails off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who, by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be. They quietly ponder the nightmare they lived through. Do they ever ask, What were we thinking? “Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” one longtime McCain friend told me with a rueful chuckle. “You nailed it.” Another key McCain aide summed up his attitude this way: “I guess it’s sort of shifted,” he said. “I always wanted to tell myself the best-case story about her.” Even now, he said, “I don’t want to get too negative.” Then he added, “I think, as I’ve evaluated it, I think some of my worst fears … the after-election events have confirmed that her more negative aspects may have been there … ” His voice trailed off. “I saw her as a raw talent. Raw, but a talent. I hoped she could become better.”

In the aftermath of McCain’s loss, news of the friction between Palin and McCain’s senior staff leaked to the press. Purdum confirms the stories of Palin’s fraught relationship with McCain aide Nicolle Wallace. But he also gives even more details on Palin’s disinterest and willful refusal to prepare for interviews during the campaign and her debate with current Vice President Joe Biden.

According to Purdum’s sources, Palin was so disengaged during the debate prep that McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, had to essentially leave the campaign to get Palin ready for the debate in Sedona, Ariz. Veteran insiders of Alaska politics confirmed to Purdum that Palin has never been one to closely follow the issues, frequently getting mad when corrected and saying that she has always relied on loyal friends rather than experienced experts to form her inner circle.

Purdum also shares an especially revealing moment from Election Night in which Palin made the request to give a concession speech. After McCain officials told her that such a speech would be unprecedented and wasn’t going to happen, Palin purportedly pleaded with McCain directly. He told her no. 

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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