The mama grizzlies at Sarah Palin’s political-action committee have a well-produced video up today that aims to do some damage control before the release of a not-so-favorable HBO dramatization of her role in the 2008 presidential campaign, based on a book co-written by TIME’s Mark Halperin.
HBO is owned by the same company that signs my paycheck, and I work with Halperin, who consulted on the movie. I lived the 2008 campaign as a reporter following McCain and Palin for TIME, but I have not seen HBO’s rendition of it, so I am unable to comment on its accuracy.
That said, there are some things that jump out in this SarahPAC video. “We know the truth,” the screen announces before providing us favorable contemporaneous commentary on Palin’s performance during the campaign. “A feisty, strong, tough and straight-talking governor,” says Nicolle Wallace, an adviser to McCain at the time. “A tremendous record of accomplishment, 80% approval rating,” adds top McCain strategist Steve Schmidt in another sound bite.
These are bizarre people to choose as Palin character witnesses. Since the campaign ended, Wallace has gone on the record saying that Palin “hated me from the beginning,” and she has accused Palin of writing a memoir of the campaign “based on fabrications.” Wallace has also revealed that the McCain campaign questioned Palin’s competency after she was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate. “There certainly were discussions – not for long, because of the arc the campaign took – but certainly there were discussions about whether, if they were to win, it would be appropriate to be sworn in,” Wallace said. A book Wallace recently wrote featured a fictional Vice President with a mental illness, a character Wallace said she based in part on Palin. That’s not all: “Palin vacillated between extraordinary highs on the campaign stage — she ignited more enthusiasm than our side had seen at any other point — to debilitating lows,” she said. “She was often withdrawn, uncommunicative and incapable of performing even the most basic tasks required of her job as McCain’s running mate.”
And what about Schmidt? Some of the footage in the SarahPAC video is taken from a postcampaign interview on 60 Minutes Schmidt did for the release of Game Change, the book. The interview did not reflect well on Palin. He said Palin had a reflexive habit of referring to then Senator Joe Biden as “O’Biden.” “She was not focused … not engaged,” Schmidt went on to say of her during the campaign. “She was not really participating in the prep [for her debate].” Schmidt also said Palin’s running for President in 2012 would be “catastrophic.” “My honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican Party,” he said.
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The critiques of Schmidt and Wallace are heavily echoed in the book that formed the basis for the HBO film. It therefore seems odd that Palin’s supporters would then turn to these same critics to prove “the truth” of Palin’s performance in the 2008 contest. The SarahPAC video is credible only if one doesn’t know the backstory. But then, those ignorant of the backstory are probably the video’s target audience.