January 8th, 2010
01:01 PM ET
10 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. dude

    I would be afraid as well
    when she opens her mouth who knows what may happen...

    January 8, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  2. Larry

    Nothing has changed. Every time she opens her mouth she makes a fool of herself.

    January 8, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  3. Scarpino

    Palin, stupid? Say it ain't so! By the way, I forget–is water wet?

    January 8, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  4. concerned citizen

    McCain the "hero" and maverick was more impressed with Sarah Palin physical appearance than anything else and sacrificed his candidacy for that, he lost twice, the election and to a super egomaniac right wing radical that was more interest in her political future than the party. Now that is the 'maverick" that now claims Presiden Obama will bankrupt the country, What an hypocrit!!!

    January 8, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  5. Mike

    Schmidt is one of the major reasons that McCain lost the election.

    January 8, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  6. sneaux

    This poor woman just keeps getting slaughtered by people for no reason. Are they afraid of something?

    January 8, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. Carmela, Longwood, Florida

    WOW!!! She even had trouble remembering the name of one of the longest serving senators in the US? That just goes to show the depth of ignorance of Ms. Palin, who being up in Alaska, was not only geographically but intellectually removed and out of touch from the rest of the country. She may be a decent woman, and may have other talents, however, bringing her as part of the Republican ticket was the biggest mistake of this century, whether McCain is willing to recognise it or not.

    January 8, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  8. Pragmatic

    You can't go for years without any intellectual curiosity and then be "prepped" ... kinda like cramming for the final without actually learning anything. When intelligent people like Clinton & Obama discover the scope demanded of the presidency, we all should realize that a few winks, and you betcha's will not stand the test – I mean, she's still pushing Abstinence Only when it didn't even work in her own family!

    January 8, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  9. Clark W Griswold

    Goodness gracious! What is even more alarming is that there are still thousands of people that feel that Ms. Palin is a suitable Presidential candidate for 2012 and would actually vote for her! Scary.

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  10. Memphis Liberal

    ...but she didn't do poorly, did she? She did well for two reasons. One, the vast majority of the Republican base in the South and Center of our country are as shallow, vapid, ignorant and poorly educated as she is. She is their dream candidate because she uses small words, short sentences, and tells them EXACTLY what they want to hear. Two, Biden kept the gloves on and refused to tear her to pieces and expose her as the true NITWIT she is the way that notorious tough interviewer Katie Couric did (pause to allow the sarcasm sink in) because he and the Obama campaign didn't want to be viewed as "mean" and "heavy handed." Thanks to Presidents like Reagan and W., the Right paints anyone with an education as an "anti-american elitist" and they run candidates who are the polar opposite of great thinkers like George Will and William F. Buckly. Instead we get Wolf Killer Barbie.

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  11. Dale

    I don't know why the liberals are so affraid of Sara. This lady has something about her that scares them to death.

    Look what we have right now....... Our entire country is heading down the toilet. Our own laws are being used against us and other countries are laughing at us.

    We look weak to the rest of the world and they are capitalizing on it.

    CNN – You might as well confess to being a liberal, you should be worried about the people that read your news instead of trying to impose others agenda's. Where's the tranparency promised to the American people??????? Where is it? We should demand it. Obama has proved himself not fit to lead this nation. But really where are our real leaders?

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  12. MJ

    That is toooo funny!! Say it isn’t so Joe!! Excuse me while I digress……..Come on America, It will be fun to elect a MORON to the highest office in the world!!! Palin 2012

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. PaulaAP

    This just in...Palin still dumb as a rock...geez, what a surprise....

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. rich in az

    And the debacle continues. Show me the money.

    January 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  15. GOP hypocrisy runs rampant

    I believe Schmidt. Palin lies so much I doubt she even recalls the truth anymore and she has proven to the American people over and over again what a dunce she is - all she can do is be "folksy" and wink cute.

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  16. Not Right or Left but Forward

    More Palin, More Palin – keep her in the media! Puleeeez.

    What a nitwit.

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  17. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    She's the Republicans best candidate for O'President.

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  18. concerned citizen

    McCain the "hero and maverick" was so impressed with Srah Palin physical appearance than her qualifications, consequently he lost twice, rhe election and to a super egomaniac righ wing radical that was more interested in making money and her own political future than the country or her party. Now the same "maverick" is telling us that Presiden Obama will bankrupt the country. What an hypocrit!!!!

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. Jay, Louisville, KY

    Her 15 minutes of fame has stretched into all this because she is the biggest IDIOT in the world.

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  20. G. Vin

    assuming the story is correct (no reason to believe it is not): no surprise the country is in such deep trouble when people of this caliber can run/ be picked for the position of V.P.
    God bless America!!!

    January 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  21. sherry

    And to think many thought she would make a good president..........scary

    January 8, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  22. Debbie

    Palin lacks stong intelligence. It's been shown time and time again. Why Alaska voted for her for Gov is beyond me. Maybe the same reason California voted for Arnie. Their pretty to look at but not long on smarts. I think the GOP keeps her around to be a cheerleader for the far right as a base but I don't think they are too serious about her.

    January 8, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. Sandy

    What is this guys deal, is he trying to destroy her credability. Let her record speak for itself. Alaskans under her leadership paid no sales. property or state income taxes and every citizen received a check from the state for over $3,000. Why because Palin went up against Big Corp to look out for citizens. Get with it she would never have all the guys from Goldman Sachs running this country like Obama does. Nor would she lie and tell voters that debates will be on CSpam and then have behind closed door meetings! Wake up, America needs Palin!

    January 8, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. Beverly in NC

    Of course the McCain camp was terrified of the ignorant Palin. They were stuck trying to educate the stupidiest woman in America and you can't fix stupid!

    The Republicans are deluding themselves if they think they have gained ground this year. They have done NOTHING the entire year but refuse to be involved in creating solutions to repair the America they destrioyed.
    They have spent the entire year criticizing everything from President Obama's tie color to voting NO on all legislation to help the American people. They obstructed needed legislation more than 200 times just to play political games and slow down getting help to needy Americans. They held up unemployment insurance checks by 3 weeks because of Senate procedural game playing. They voted against even sending more protective gear to our troops!
    What has the Republican Party done to better America or offer help and solutions this year? NOTHING
    Their approval numbers are still below that of the miserable failure of George Bush and Cheney.
    For ONCE, Steele is actually speaking a moment of truth. Republicans are going to do terribly in November. Do they think we are stupid? We have watched them do nothing all year but spread lies, hate, fear, and racism. They even called for our failure as a nation. Who on earth is going to vote for such anti-American traitors again?
    What the Republicans are conveniently avoiding is that more Republicans are not running again in 2010 than Democrats. We have had 2 Senate Democrats decide not to run again after 30 and 40 years each in the Senate.
    SIX Republican Senators in key states that President Obama won in 2008 are not running for reelection.
    Not all Americans are the small lunatic fringe tea baggers we constantly see on TV. We know who has worked hard for us all year and who cares about the People of this country. Democrats are the Party of the People. Republicans only care about themselves, their own money and power status, and supporting the abusive banks, insurance companies and corporations who buy their votes.
    We the People can vote NO too and we will be using our NO vote widely in November to rid Congress of the traitorous, do-nothing, dishonorable Republicans.
    McCain has thrown temper tantrums all year and lied about how he would work with President Obama this year. Palin is the most hated woman in America. America is sick to death of Republican lies and hatred.
    Steele is right – this will be another landslide year for Democrats. No one wants to go back to the policies of the Bush years. Latest poll numbers show if the election were today, 87% of all Americans would vote straight Democratic (former Republicans included).
    The Republican obstructionism, refusal to work with President Obama, voting NO on everything and constantly lying to the American people has backfired on the Republicans. They are nothing but bitter hateful losers and will be again come November.

    January 8, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  25. Ed in Oregon

    Sometimes gross incompetence is funny. Not always when the American voter is being manipulated into voting for it. I can;t help but feel lucky that this woman was not elected.

    January 8, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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