Who's responsible for Palin's new wardrobe?

Conflicting stories and finger-pointing over the decision to buy new clothing for Sarah Palin and her family hint at tension inside the Republican Party.

Published October 28, 2008 12:15AM (EDT)

The story of the $150,000 worth of clothing that the Republican National Committee purchased for the use of Sarah Palin and her family isn't really just about fashion anymore. Now it may be a window into the fighting that's reportedly going on in the McCain campaign, as various factions try to shift around the blame for the decision to buy the clothing.

Last week, on MSNBC's "Hardball," host Chris Matthews asked McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer "who made this decision to pay all this -- spend all this money." Pfotenhauer responded, "I actually don't know who at the RNC made the decision, but it was obviously the RNC's call."

During his own appearance on MSNBC on Monday, though, RNC chairman Mike Duncan told a different story, saying, "I'm not going to get in an argument with Sarah Palin or anyone else about this ... We are working with the campaign. This was a coordinated expense that the campaign asked us to pay for, and we paid for that expense."

Also on Monday, on Fox News, the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes pointed the finger in a different direction, saying:

The person who went and bought the clothes, and as I understand it put the clothes on her credit card, went to Saks and Neiman Marcus -- where she was not asked to go by Sarah Palin, where Sarah Palin has never set foot -- and bought these clothes and brought them back, the staffer who did that has been a coward and has not stepped forward and said, "I made a mistake, I went and bought these clothes, I shouldn't have, it's been an embarrassment to the campaign and to Sarah Palin and to John McCain, I hurt the campaign, I'm sorry, it was my fault."

Instead, she's allowed Sarah Palin to take the whole hit, and that's hurt the campaign ... All the people I talk to say it's Nicolle Wallace. Now, if she didn't do that, then let her announce it publicly.

Barnes' accusation is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the RNC disclosure reports that led to Politico's discovery of the expenditures indicate that it was consultant Jeff Larson, not Wallace, who was reimbursed the money.

Second, according to Ben Smith, Palin allies blame Wallace for some of the vice-presidential nominee's stumbles and are already predicting that Wallace will attempt to fault Palin if McCain loses. Moreover, Smith reported, "Palin's loyalists say she's grown particularly disenchanted with the veterans of the Bush reelection campaign, including [Steve] Schmidt and Wallace." That's noteworthy considering where Barnes' allegiances appear to lie. In a 2007 article he wrote about Palin for the Weekly Standard, he gushed over her and dubbed her a "star," a sentiment he repeated in an intensely pro-Palin piece he wrote for the magazine this month. And just a couple of weeks ago, he said that the future of the GOP and the conservative movement "comes down to one person: Sarah Palin."

A McCain spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz. Sarah Palin