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. Jason

    Nothing this man, or anyone else for that matter, says will make a difference to the Palin crowd. They've got enough fantastic liberal conspiracy theories to explain away any possible criticism. It's entertaining at least. I sincerely hope she runs for president. Let's turn this dog and pony show into a full-on circus!

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  2. matt

    As pointed by Tina Fey on SNL her "can I call you Joe" question was a setup for her "Say it ain't so, Joe" retort later in the debate.

    This explanation for her question is funnier.

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  3. Michael Carr

    Schmidt whining again.

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  4. C.E.

    I knew the " Can I call you Joe" line was planned when I heard her say it. But, I honestly thought it was only to make her look more homespun and charming, not because she couldn't get his last name right.

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  5. dawn

    CNN, you need to give it up. Knock off the constant Palin bashing. This last piece shows how pathetic and desperate the whole thing has become. Palin is a smashing success across the country. throngs of people turn out to hear her speak and her book is a best selling hit. A very small minority can act nasty and attack her all they want, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The bashers just don't matter. If they did, then she would be a broken down, poverty stricken woman who's life is in shambles.
    She and McCain didn't win simply because Obama brought sleazy, corrupt, Chicago politics into it. It's hard to fight someone who has ACORN on your side registering voters multiple times, along with the dead at the local cemetery.

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. Who said the Mayans were wrong?

    Once a debacle always a debacle.Vote for Sarah and make sure the Mayans were right.hahaha

    January 8, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Lori in Texas

    LOL Sarah couldn't remember "Senator Biden" so she had to call him Joe? And to think she may have been thisclose to the nuke codes.

    I so hope she runs again in 2012.

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. FL for Change

    And the stupid people who almost elected her VP of the United States will somehow blame all of this on President Obama, I'm sure. John McCain has burdened all of us with this "idiot Barbie" and made her rich in the process. Way to go, John! I hope the intelligent citizens of Arizona realize that your time and come...and gone!

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. lisa

    wow. Im sure she would learn his name REAL QUICK if we all called her MCPlain or McPain instead of Palin.

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Bill

    Well she just isn't presidential material!!
    plus she is a quitter.

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. AndyF

    I just don't get how people take Palin serious. She's grossly incompetent when it comes to matters of state, plays the victim card when asked such simple questions like "what do you read?" Such defensive reactions are classic signs of someone lacking confidence in their very intelligence, and not sure how many examples and repeats of idiotic behavior folks will need to realize she is actually less intelligent than that recovering drunk frat boy we had to endure for 8 years (and are paying a dear price).

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. Phil Kessack

    After seeing Biden function as VP, do you really think Palin would have done worse????

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. Ivan White

    Sarah belongs back in moose-country and with backwoodsmen and fishermen where she is more comfortable. Palin in 2012 indeed! She couldn't run a day-care successfully, much lessa country. Just ask fellow-Alaskans from whom she ran away.

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. Honest Abe

    Not to bright! A republican leader – go figure

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  15. Minnesotan

    No surprise here. Palin can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. She barely manages to parrot the delusional party mantras without sticking her foot in her mouth. She should really go into show business and work with Tina Fey. Either that or be a greeter at WalMart.

    January 8, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  16. george anderson

    Give me a break, This is a "bombshell" that could create a debacle. If all they needed to worry about was messing up Biden's name, I would say she was doing very well in her prep, this is like worrying about what color dress to wear.

    January 8, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  17. Craig C

    Wow...just wow.

    I wonder if she called him Joe Bin Laden, too.

    January 8, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  18. wycliffe

    If she could get Bidens name right, who expected her to understand the complexity of the financial mess, the collapsing economy, US security, Terrorism and so forth.

    January 8, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. jon

    Ha ha! Man I'd love to have them make a movie out of Palin's debate preparations. That would be hilarious.

    January 8, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  20. Republican Against Palin

    "The 'expert' post-debate analysis was that my question was a cleverly devised strategy to disarm my opponent. Yeah, right." .........I don't think anyone has ever used the word "clever" when describing Sarah palin.

    January 8, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  21. Vicki I. Purcell

    I believe this is just more sour grapes from the McCain staff. McCain lost the race not Palin. He would not have done as well as he did if she had not been on the ticket. Coming from a very conservative part of New Mexico , I know how Republicans and conservatives felt. I know some Dems who like Palin better than Obama or McCain.
    McCains staff is just aiding and abetting the enemy when they trash Palin. They are giving the main stream media the meat they need to go after the Republican candidates. I think its all defensive and
    about making money on books and the average American is sick of it.

    January 8, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  22. Phil in SA

    "debacle of historic and epic proportions."??? – McCain aides were correct. Only an idiot couldn't see that she was SO out of her league it was almost sad. Almost.

    January 8, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  23. hdjones

    Palin is right– Schmidt *did* mishandle her during the campaign– every time he let her open her mouth.

    January 8, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  24. ANGIE

    why was anyone surprised. she is dumb as a stump. plz. I have a 6 year old nephew who's volcabulary is larger then her's. the only thing she knows is the state where she lives. she was a complete and utter disaster and an embarrassment to women everywhere. With that stupid wink,wink and you betcha.

    January 8, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  25. Rob

    Let's be intellectually honest here...the ones who fear Palin are the liberal left.

    January 8, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
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