Signs of Growing Friction Between McCain and Palin

Nov 06, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

The call to "Free Sarah Palin!" has been answered, and Palin off the chain is proving to be a loose cannon. The day after her debate with Joe Biden, Palin told FOX News she learned about the McCain campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan when she read about it in the newspaper that morning. Maybe this was just to reassure us she stays well informed by reading newspapers like The New York Times, part of her post-debate strategy to try a damage control re-do of her Katie Couric interviews that continued to drip out one Palin gaffe after another earlier in the week.

But then she claimed to have "fired off a quick e-mail" in which she said, "Oh come on, do we have to?" Over the weekend, she again questioned the decision to reporters outside a diner in Englewood, Colorado, saying she "would sure love to get to run to Michigan and make sure that Michigan knows that we haven't given up there."

And yesterday, in a phone interview with William Kristol, Palin leapt at the chance to resurrect Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a way to drag Obama through the mud. "I don't know why that association isn't discussed more," she said. "Because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country...I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."

When the far right wing clowns running the North Carolina Republican Party ran a racially-tinged attack ad during the primaries tying Obama to Wright, McCain graciously denounced it. "I've said again and again, I do not believe that Sen. Obama shares Rev. Wright's extremist views which he has stated," said McCain, and promised to "disassociate myself from that kind of campaigning."

Either Palin never got the memo, or McCain has flip-flopped and flushed his honor down the toilet yet again in his quest for the presidency. The latter is certainly possible. With McCain-Palin's chances cratering like the economy, McCain has clearly signaled it's time to get McDesperate.

Responding to rising GOP fears that the election is slipping away, the McCain campaign has decided their only hope is "turning a page on this financial crisis," in the words of one senior McCain adviser, and relentlessly tearing down Obama.

"It's a dangerous road, but we have no choice," echoed another top McCain strategist to the NY Daily News. "If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we're going to lose."

But there's more going on with Palin's off the reservation moves than simply carrying out the McNasty plan of attack against Obama. Sarah Palin has her own agenda. She wants to be president, and knows this election is her best shot at elbowing her way into the Oval Office.

Laura Chase, Palin's campaign manager during her first run for mayor of Wasilla in 1996, remembers a night they chatted about her ambitions:

"I said, 'You know, Sarah, within 10 years you could be governor,' " Ms. Chase recalled. "She replied, 'I want to be president.' "

And she's not going to let John McCain stop her. At a rally yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska, playing defense far within the red state zone, Palin also claimed to be making her own calls about which states she barracudas into:

"The pundits were saying, 'Check out where she's going. She's going to Nebraska.' The pundits were saying, 'The only reason she would be going there is because they're scared. They have to shore up votes,' " Palin said. "I so wanted to reach into that TV and say 'no.' I'm going to Nebraska because I want to go to Nebraska," Palin said.

These incidents are not the first time Palin has bared her naked ambition. In September, she made a revealing slip when she flipped the ticket at a rally in Iowa, referring to a "Palin and McCain administration." This happened back when the campaign was still babysitting Palin by restricting her to joint appearances with McCain. Now all bets are off as to what she'll say next out on the trail on her own.

Unless McCain reins her in again fast, we can look forward to another month of jarring moments like on Saturday when she misread a saying from Madeline Albright. Quoting off a Starbucks cup, she warned female voters at a rally in California, "there's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't support other women."

In Palin's Mary Poppins bubble, why shouldn't she strut her stuff? At the moment she's pumped up from surviving her debate with Biden, although failing to realize she didn't do nearly enough to prove herself competent enough to be Vice President and reverse her drag on the ticket. But by stepping over the bar painted on the floor, her performance quieted the voice of reason that was beginning to percolate among conservative talking heads calling for her replacement.

Since she now knows McCain won't dump her, Palin is in the driver's seat and plans to stay there. And her take-no-prisoners nasty streak and extreme right wing views have found kindred spirits now that she's fully staffed up with veterans of George W. Bush's slash-and-burn, hyper-partisan campaigns. Like Tucker Eskew, Palin's new chief of staff, who was instrumental in trashing McCain when he helped run Bush's 2000 primary campaign in South Carolina.

Far from a fresh crop of reformers, the Republican operatives who are currently stage managing Sarah Palin are virtually all transplants from the Bush White House. As one Republican strategist told the Washington Post:

"It's insane to me that at the same time that it's running saying it's not going to be the Bush administration, this campaign looks like the Bush campaign on steroids."

Reminiscent of how John Edwards helped keep the Democratic ticket disorganized in 2004 by sticking to his own playbook, Palin is showing the nation McCain is already an afterthought for her. She even said so at the debate, reminding us she "joined this team that is a team of mavericks with John McCain, also." Mr. DeMille, she's ready for her 2012 closeup.

(UPDATE 10/25 - Politico published a jaw-dropping story today confirming that the McCain-Palin rift first spotted here three weeks ago has only gotten worse. Heavy on not-for-attribution interviews with four senior Palin advisors, it revealed that Palin "blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image." These are the same former Bush campaign veterans and dirty-politics practicing Karl Rove proteges who were hand picked by McCain's team to guide her. Meanwhile, McCain stalwarts on the inside describe Palin as "simply unready -- 'green,' sloppy and incomprehensibly willing to criticize McCain." Other stories that have trickled out in recent weeks tracing the McCain-Palin divide can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.