January 8th, 2010
01:01 PM ET
4 years ago

Schmidt: McCain aides feared Palin 'debacle'

McCain aides feared Palin's debate performance could prove disastrous.
McCain aides feared Palin's debate performance could prove disastrous.

(CNN) – Former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt is revealing new details on just how uneasy campaign aides felt about then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's prospects heading into her debate with rival Joe Biden.

In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper set to air on 60 Minutes Sunday on CBS, Schmidt said Palin's debate preparations were going so poorly that campaign aides feared the closely-watched debate could prove to be a "debacle of historic and epic proportions."

The interview is part of a preview of the upcoming book "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime," by political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

What was most troubling, according to Schmidt, was the fact Palin repeatedly confounded Biden's name during the preparation process, referring to the then-Delaware senator as Sen. O'Biden. Aides were so worried that such a mishap in the actual debate would prove catastrophic that they advised her to simply refer to her opponent as "Joe."

"It was multiple people – and I wasn't one of them – who all said at the same time, 'Just say, Can I call you Joe,' which she did," Schmidt tells Cooper.

Palin herself addresses that moment in her memoir released late last year, "Going Rogue."
"We had no idea my mic would already be hot when I walked onstage, crossed over to his turf, and said, 'Can I call you Joe?' The 'expert' post-debate analysis was that my question was a cleverly devised strategy to disarm my opponent. Yeah, right."

Schmidt and Palin have been engaged in a war of words for months, during which Schmidt has openly questioned Palin's viability to be president and Palin has accused Schmidt of mishandling her during the course of the campaign.


Filed under: Sarah Palin • Steve Schmidt
soundoff (305 Responses)
  1. FRANKIE

    Wait a doggone minute – she's accusing him of "mishandling" her? And she supposedly thinks she's got the guts/will to be second-in-command of the NATION? Puh-leeze. In a battle of wits, she clearly comes to the table unarmed.

    January 8, 2010 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  2. andrewstl

    if palin is teling the truth why does she not have anybody coming to her rescue. i think schmidt is right on. she is not the brightest bulb. might be the brightest bulb for the neo religious and trailer park criwds but if u have any intellect she appears to be pretty dumb1

    January 8, 2010 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  3. Gary

    It looks like the McCain staff did their best to defend the Idiot and she still stiffs them when they tell the truth. I'd love to see a Limbaugh/Palin ticket in 2012! SNL will have comedy material for years to come!!!!

    January 8, 2010 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  4. ray

    the dumb fools on the right who takes this woman serious are as dumb and stupid as her or even more. anyone who cannot name the news paper she read is not fit to be president or even a manager for a seven -eleven store. this woman is as dumb as they come and cnn should covering this moron.

    January 8, 2010 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  5. Chris

    Palin did well in the debates. Schmidt did not like Palin from the begining and his lack of teamwork is one of the causes of the McCain campaign failure. Schmidt probably has a book in the works and is milking the experience. *waits for the rabid cnn palin-haters*

    January 8, 2010 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  6. Emma

    What a dope the possible next president is. Actually she will probably never be voted in but she will make money trying to be elected. Palin and her supporters demonstrate the intellectually challenged segment of America.

    January 8, 2010 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. ray

    the dumb fools on the right who takes this woman serious are as dumb and stupid as her or even more. anyone who cannot name the news paper she read is not fit to be president or even a manager for a seven -eleven store. this woman is as dumb as they come and cnn should stop covering this moron.

    January 8, 2010 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. Rob

    It's hardly coincidental that this is being reported today. CNN's got to deflect any heat off the President's need to defend recent security breaches with the dems usual standby ... publish something derogatory about Republicans, specifically Palin or Cheney. It's sooooooo obvious what the plan is. CNN really needs to try another tactic for its ricochet tactics. We're all aware of the cycle now. I know ... how about publishing Obama's college admissions and transcript records so we can all see how much more brilliant he was than all those who applied in his class at his ivy league schools to dispel those "he got in due to affirmative action" and how much smarter he is than the rest of Americans based on the grades and standardized test scores he earned. I mean, Palin and McCain and Bush did, so how come it's not newsworthy to CNN that Obama never has been willing to release any of his academic records for full public scrutiny? Isn't that in direct opposition to his campaign claim of transparency?

    January 8, 2010 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  9. Gary

    No surprise there. But for some, by all means, go on supporting this woman.

    January 8, 2010 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  10. James

    Palin is the downfall of respectable conservatism.

    January 8, 2010 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. Doz

    Thanks to Schmidt for confirming what we already knew... Sarah Palin is daft.

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  12. stan t

    palin accuses schmidt of 'mishandling' her? this woman thinks she can be a credible candidate for the second most important job in the world and she doesnt have the brains to question what aids tell her at the moment instead of a year after the fact during a book tour?

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  13. Ronnie

    that's because she is STUPID!!!!!

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  14. Keeth in California

    No surprises here.

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  15. Tom from Ohio

    I want Palin in 2012!!...but then again, I love chaos

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  16. JP

    Jay Leno made the same mistake referring to Biden as "Obiden" on his show...not that big of deal. Perhaps her nerves would not have been so unsettled during the debate prep if not for the undue pressure put on her by the media after the campaign's horrible mishandling of her prior media exposures. Perhaps if she was able to speak for herself – what she tryly believed – instead of being fed B.S. non-answers to regurgitate, she would have been just fine. BTW...she obviously held her own during the debate w/ Biden...which is a great feat in and of itself seeing as how Biden has had decades of experience publicly speaking.

    January 8, 2010 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  17. brian in denver

    If/when Palin runs for president in 2012 it will be a "debacle of historic & epic proportions". She's repeatedly proven herself incapable of being on the world stage.

    January 8, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  18. Steve - Ohio

    It is amazing. At 11:14AM on 01/08/2010 your ( CNN ) main page has no mention of the latest jobs numbers released by the Government. 10% unemployment and 85K jobs lost in December. But in the Latest News column or headlines no mention. But you waste space there for unimportant news about Palin.

    Wonder why you are losing readers and viewers? How about not knowing what the hell is really important to the American people.

    January 8, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  19. Carlos Averhoff

    The most scary part of all this is that this person (Palin) could/would have been a heart beat away from the precidency. Any logical thinking individual can see very clear that Palin is a person of severe limited intellect and articulation. The fact that she is a "main" spokesperson for the Republican party, shows just how out of the main stream the Republican party really is. I have nothing personal against Ms Palin, but as a Vice President of the USA, how scary is that!!

    January 8, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  20. Richard L

    Their attempt to educate her failed. She did refer to him as Senator O'Biden in the debate.

    January 8, 2010 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  21. Robert Gorham

    Wow. What a surprise that is, NOT. I am just amazed by 2 things. How and why Alaska voted for her to become governor and how and why would the McCain campaign pick her as their running mate for vice president. The McCain campaign lost all credibility with that choice because it showed how serious (NOT) they took the role of vice president of these United States.

    January 8, 2010 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  22. sifto77

    This Schmit creep will never make as much money on his book as Sarah–he should have treated her better out of respect for McCain. After all, if he trashes Palin, he is trashing McCain for his smart choice as VP....McCain actually got more votes because of Palin. It was his vote for the bailout that lost him the election.... ..

    January 8, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  23. Horned Hand Sign Killer

    thats becuz Palin was a... set-up set-up.... set-up set-up...

    January 8, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  24. LLBD

    I still don't trust her. To me, she's another republican puppet – but she quit her job, and that doesn't say much for any politician who may be thinking of throwing their hat in the ring. Nope, can't go along with her, would do whatever it takes to vote her out!

    January 8, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  25. Beverly - NYC

    While it's still entertaining that the McCain camp continues to throw stones at their hand picked, non-vetted choice for Vice President, McCain will forever be linked to this bone head choice, especially since Mrs. Palin won't go away quietly anytime soon. And she did slip up and call him O'Biden during the debates

    January 8, 2010 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
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