Top advisers and aides to John McCain‘s presidential campaign are going on the record to defend Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin from the barrage of anonymous accusations - some smacking of sexism - that have slammed into the Republican vice-presidential nominee, particularly since the election.
“I can say on the record that all this is way overblown and some of the stuff I’ve read in recent days, whether it’s about Governor Palin or our Mr. McCain campaign staff, is fictional,” Mark Salter said in an e-mail response to questions posed by The Washington Times.
But Mr. Salter, who was Mr. McCain’s closest aide, speechwriter and biographer, did not respond to specific questions about accusations made in several press venues by unnamed campaign staffers attacking Mrs. Palin’s character and intelligence.
Several Republicans said the intent appeared to try to shift blame for the ticket’s performance from aides and advisers to Mrs. Palin and put into question her future on the national political stage.
Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, defended Mrs. Palin in an e-mail exchange with The Times concerning, among other articles, a Newsweek report that at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Mrs. Palin had greeted Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter in her hotel room while “wearing nothing but a towel, with another [towel] on her wet hair.”
“The towel story categorically is not true,” Mr. Schmidt told The Times in the course of telephone and e-mail exchanges over the weekend.
Charles L. Black, a close friend and senior adviser to Mr. McCain, said “no” to four of the following five questions posed to him by The Times:
• Did she go “rogue” by refusing to tell anyone in the campaign she intended to talk up Barack Obama’s ties with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers?
• Did she direct staffers to buy on their credit cards clothes for her and/or her husband and/children? If so, did the McCain campaign find out only after aides asked for reimbursement?
• Did she chat on the phone with a Canadian radio-show host who claimed to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy?
• Did she have a concession speech ready to read on election night?
• Did she not know that NAFTA was an agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada?
“Answer to all of this is no, except she was victim of hoax perpetrated by Canadian talk radio re Sarkozy,” Mr. Black said. “Even then, she said nothing wrong in the call. We think she did an excellent job and added a lot to the ticket. ‘We’ includes John McCain.”
The press made much of the towel story as if it were a shockingly risque incident.
But Jane Abraham, co-founder of Team Sarah and general chairman of the Susan B. Anthony List - a nonprofit group that supports pro-life female candidates - told The Times that candidates and their campaign staffers, traveling together constantly and always pressed for time, tend to regard one another as family.
If a male candidate had answered the door in similar attire, it almost surely would have been regarded as unremarkable and gone unreported, said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer and legal adviser to Republican Senate and House members.
“Sarah Palin did exactly what she was supposed to do: She energized the conservative base for McCain, she brought excitement to the GOP convention and the campaign, and she absolutely jump-started the RNC’s and state parties’ fundraising in September,” Mrs. Mitchell said.
“The fact is that McCain’s ‘handlers’ - the same people who are now trashing Sarah Palin - made McCain look and seem erratic during the September economic events,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “That was the end of the McCain campaign and that is hardly Sarah Palin’s fault. These white boys need to go look in a mirror when they’re looking for someone to blame for the loss.”
Mrs. Abraham noted that the McCain campaign “had never attracted the large crowds it until Sarah came along. There was an immediate surge in the polls because of her.”
“The anonymous accusations against Governor Palin reflect badly on the campaign, and John McCain deserved better treatment from his aides,” Mrs. Abraham added.
Rarely has so much anonymous backbiting among the staff of a presidential campaign made it into the press as happened with the McCain campaign.
Fox News contributor Fred Barnes publicly blamed McCain aide Nicole Wallace for the rash of stories just before Election Day that Mrs. Palin had spent $150,000 of campaign money at expensive stores to outfit herself and her family for their campaign appearances.
Accused by some McCain senior staff members of being one of the leakers, Mrs. Wallace told Ana Marie Cox at the Daily Beast that there was “an organized campaign to lay blame for things at my feet” on the clothes story, but that she was “not going to engage before the campaign ends.”
Some Palin defenders have wondered why Mr. McCain did not dispute the accusations against her more aggressively.
But Mr. Black told The Times, “McCain and his senior staff were happy with her performance and deny rumors to the contrary. McCain and we have great affection for her.”
It was not the McCain campaign but “the Republican National Committee that went out and bought her clothes and some of those are going to be returned,” Mr. Black said.
Mr. Schmidt gasped and uttered an expletive when told that some of the anonymous accusations against Mrs. Palin in the press were being attributed to him.
Mr. Black and Mr. Schmidt both insisted they didn’t know who in the McCain campaign team was spreading false stories about Mrs. Palin, though Mr. Black said the stories were being spread by liberals in the press eager to discredit the Republican candidate.