Kristol, McCain staffers spar over Palin

A critical article in Vanity Fair about the governor exposes some lingering bitterness from the 2008 campaign


Alex Koppelman
July 1, 2009 6:40PM (UTC)

In the wake of the release of a hard-hitting Vanity Fair article on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, it seems that the most damage to Palin -- and the Republican Party -- might not come the article itself, but from its aftermath.

In response to the piece, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, a longtime Palin defender, wrote on his magazine's blog, "You don’t have to be a big Palin fan to recognize the article is full of dubious claims, and is dependent on self-serving stories provided on background by some of the people who ran the McCain campaign into the ground .... [O]n the day [Todd] Purdum’s piece hit the web (today), a journalist who had expressed suspicions in the past that elements of the McCain campaign had undercut Palin suddenly got a friendly e-mail from top McCain-Palin campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. This journalist hadn’t heard from Schmidt in months. Perhaps Steve was nervous someone would finger him for the Purdum piece."

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Kristol went on to accuse Schmidt of being specifically responsible for something Purdum wrote about, that "top aides" to McCain had apparently worried that Palin was suffering from post-partum depression.

From there, the fight got even nastier, exposing the degree of animosity still remaining over McCain's loss and the way the campaign was run.

In an e-mail to Politico's Jonathan Martin, Schmidt called Kristol's accusation "categorically false," and went after the pundit, writing, "I'm sure John McCain would be president today if only Bill Kristol had been in charge of the campaign.

“After all, his management of [former Vice President] Dan Quayle’s public image as his chief of staff is still something that takes your breath away."

And that was only the beginning. Randy Scheunemann, a foreign policy advisor to McCain who became a Palin supporter during the campaign, also got involved, backing Kristol over Schmidt and prompting Schmidt to drag back up an old story about his having tried to fire Scheunemann over leaks that damaged the McCain campaign. In turn, Scheunemann accused Schmidt of "acting in a manner of Iranian secret police" by searching his e-mail to determine where the leak was coming from.

The headline of Martin's article is "Palin story sparks GOP family feud," but this seems more like a fight within the McCain campaign than within the Republican Party as a whole. That said, though, there is a big rift in the party over Palin, with Kristol, other conservative pundits and a decent portion of the base on the governor's side, and a decent portion of the GOP's establishment politicos on the other. Martin's story showed just how passionate people on both sides of it can be, and that doesn't really bode well for Palin's chances in 2012.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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