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. Reformed Republican

    Being nothing more than a beauty contestant from Wasilla that lucked out, Palin thinks a political debate is the Q&A portion of the pagent and is scored like fancy walkin' and wavin'.

    What do you expect from this political grifter and trailer trash pop culture diva, intelligence?

    January 8, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  2. Sarah did just fine . . .

    Sarah Palin held her own very well during that debate. And if I had to address him, I'd have a hard time NOT calling Biden O'Babble, O'Bumble, O'Plugs, or O'Geeze!

    By the way - has Schmidt ever looked in the mirror and figured out that he did a lousy, miserable job "managing" McCain's campaign? If he hasn't, he should!

    January 8, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  3. Chris

    Yet, Palin managed to hold her own in that debate! LOL Why? She isn't stupid and uninformed. I disagree 100% with her views, but think those trying to minimize her by using the stupid meme are not helping. She is not stupid. Try something else.

    January 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  4. DJ

    I don't even know how to respond to this... what an embarrassment.

    January 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  5. Brian from PA

    Can we just move on already? The campaign is over. Let's focus on some real issues here - the economy?!?!

    January 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  6. Bruce Hall

    That rocks. A true republican, dumb as a rock.

    January 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  7. HBO

    What's really funny is how passionately people will push for and support someone that they know is not qualified for squat during a campaign.

    I mean... why would Schmidt passionately tell the American people to vote for McCain and his dumb running mate when he knew all along that she was totally unqualified?

    Didn't he care about his own integrity? Was it for the money? Was it partisanship? What's the deal?

    January 8, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  8. Tetsuko_Chan

    Talk about an airhead. People are seriously considering her for 2012?

    January 8, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  9. Ken from missouri

    This woman is so dumb and just to think she was one step away
    from the highest office in our country I would like to see her report card from college I bet that would tell her whole story.

    January 8, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  10. cindy

    Smart man Schmidt, how could anyone even remotely consider Palin as a Candidate. Horrible thing the McCain did to our country to unleash her on the American people. Wish I could tell him just what a lot of people think of him for doing that.

    January 8, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  11. Palin/Bachmann 2012

    The McCain people are just trying to trash the only true Republican star in the last campaign to mask McCain's weaknesses. Shame on them!

    January 8, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  12. Ray Jackson, Ms

    LOL. And the republicans were all so amused at how down to Earth she was by calling him Joe. They even claimed it threw him off and caused him to "lose" the debate. Now even the people around her are willing to admit she was just too dumb to learn the his name. Hahahahahahahaha.

    January 8, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. neon

    Say it ain't so Joe { O'biden }. I too thought that it was a shrewd move by Gov Palin when she asked Sen Biden at the beginning of the debate if she could call him Joe. I hadn't as an independent decided who to vote for yet as I had considered Sen McCain as a viable candidate at that point. As the campaign went on I realized Sen McCain was no longer the Republican rebel he once was and had become a GOP talking points automaton. Then as Gov Palin went on to show a complete lack of knowledge about anything except killing moose and riding snowmobiles I knew I couldn't support this ticket. Maybe If Sarah O'Palin had read a newspaper or two she would know the difference between Joe O'Biden and Barack Bama.

    January 8, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. LB

    "Schmidt has openly questioned Palin's viability to be president and Palin has accused Schmidt of mishandling her during the course of the campaign."

    How can they fight when they're both right?

    January 8, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Wow. No need to say more.

    January 8, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Mike W

    Its things like this that re-affirm my thoughts on the day that McCain picked her to be his running mate that Obama would win the presidential race. McCain only had to make one 'real' decision during this entire time and that was his running mate. His poor choice in this matter only highlighted that the man was not a good choice for president. If he made this bad of a decision then what other bad decisions would he make? We could not afford another George W Bush.

    The day she was chosen she commented that she didnt even know what a vice president does, and you would think if they spent some time vetting you for a position, even if you didnt think it would happen in a million years, you might google what a vice president does.

    January 8, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. C Spurgeon

    She is a total loss although now a rich one. No figureing what people will pay for. Takes all kinds!

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. Marc, Toronto - Hard to believe over 5 million would buy her book

    It boggles the mind that over 5 million people were foolish enough to buy this pretender and quitter's book. It boggles the mind to read that 15% of Americans believe she is a legit and serious political figure.

    I find Sarah Palin to be more like Tina Fay than Tina Fay is like her. A comic relief.

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  19. South

    Who cares....This is news? She is a twit. Andy's saying "15 minutes of fame" needs to be changed for this twit. The more we hear little tibits like this the more it confirms what we all allready know of her iq.

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. Chris

    The gentleman keep trying to portray Sara a Stupid. They can't stand the fact that she is a regular person that a lot of people like, admire and will be backing in future elections.
    She is not a pupppet to the party bosses and elite handlers who want to phoney her up.
    SARA IN 2010

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. indyreader

    I do remember hearing Palin say "O'Biden" at least once during some televised appearance – can't remember which one it was – so this seems believable. And not really surprising, either.

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Its such shame Palin didn't make it to the white house. The political news would just have been like a four year Seinfeld episode. I really hope she runs in 2012 – she has my vote for sure!

    January 8, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. Marion

    The Democrats owe a debt of gratitude to John McCain. He didn't win the election, but he saddled the GOP with this ignorant, divisive woman who doesn't seem to know that her 15 minutes are up. Her supporters will make her a force to be reckoned with within the party, yet she's too divisive to win a general election.

    January 8, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  24. Dan

    It was a failure of epic proportions. My mind wasnt made up in this election until it was painfully obvious that Palin belonged in the "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" hall of shame.

    January 8, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  25. James

    Palin is dumb as a rock. Anyone with any basic intelligence, whether they be Republican or Democrat, has to see that. Those who continue to "sing her praises" as being some sort of viable leader are a major part of this country's dangerous anti-intellectualism and, more importantly, one of the reasons we may be in serious trouble as a nation.

    January 8, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
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