From watching “Game Change,” this much is clear: (1) Steve Schmidt is an absolutely brilliant campaign strategist who gave Sen. John McCain the idea to put “Country First” (it had never occurred to the war hero); and (2) Nicolle Wallace is a demure, yet quietly ingenious, media savant who can handle any crisis.
Oh, but wait: Mr. Schmidt ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of presidential elections, losing to a first-term senator from Illinois with no experience governing anything, and Ms. Wallace let the entire message of the McCain campaign be overrun by — “Saturday Night Live”?
I spent a year of my life on the McCain campaign, and I can tell you this: Nuh uh. “Game Change” is a ridiculous farce of a movie — even more absurd as a chronicle of a major historical event — that appears to have been written mostly by Mr. Schmidt and Ms. Wallace, two players who have major axes to grind with the higher-ups of the McCain campaign.
Mr. Schmidt was a longtime loser when he entered the McCain campaign, losing race after race — he served as communications director for Lamar (Lamar!) Alexander’s pitiful run for president: Need we say more?
Ms. Wallace took a similar path, starting out in California politics, then switching to Florida. Like Mr. Schmidt, she worked in the George W. Bush White House before joining the McCain campaign. I was covering the White House at the same time; she wasn’t much of a force there, either.
Privately, she got crosswise with Sarah Palin almost immediately after joining the campaign, although publicly, she was all aboard. What’s Mrs. Palin like on the trail?: “She works harder than anyone I’ve known in politics,” Ms. Wallace said. “She’ll go until 1 or 2 in the morning, and she’s up again at the crack of dawn.”
Yet Ms. Wallace appeared on MSNBC (now also a homestay for Mr. Schmidt), to tell a different story: She was in shock just “how close we came to having somebody a heartbeat away from the presidency so fundamentally unprepared and unsuited for the job,” noting that (Poor Nicolle!) it was “the most traumatic experience to realize that they were working on behalf of somebody who — it’s an open question whether she is fit to serve, I certainly don’t think she was.”
Now, just to jump back a bit, back to that bus I spent so many days of my life on. The campaign handled Mrs. Palin all wrong: She was (is) a major force — major. She is (brace yourself) brilliant — but brilliant in the way no other candidate has been since (brace yourself again) Ronald Reagan. Sitting down with Katie Couric? All wrong. Mrs. Palin should have been out more, especially with regional press. I was aboard her plane a dozen times; never saw her, never asked her a single question.
Was she qualified to be president when she was picked for vice president? Maybe not. But also, maybe so. She’s a normal person — she gets it, America. Trouble making ends meet? She’s been there. Having a hard time raising your kids? Tell me about it. Everything you’re going through, she’s gone through.
And her mind is a steel trap. I watched her from beginning to end. Yes, an Alaska governor doesn’t know much about the Korean Peninsula (nor does an Arkansas or Texas governor, for that matter). But man, what a quick study she was. I followed every second up to and including her St. Louis debate with Joe Biden, and she dominated the Washington veteran who made his career on being a foreign-policy expert.
But “Game Change” fits the mainstream media narrative, one now being sold by the two former McCain aides. She was patently unfit to serve as vice president, but wasn’t Barack Obama patently unfit to be president? Certainly seems so; wouldn’t we all be better off now if Mr. McCain (shockingly still alive) and Mrs. Palin had won in 2008?
The HBO biopic is notably nice to Mrs. Palin — she seems OK, loves her kids, isn’t a creationist wacko. But it’s the subtle digs that kill: She thinks the queen runs the United Kingdom, thinks “Saddam” was responsible for 9/11. And there was this shouted question from a faux reporter: “What about the allegations that Trig is not really your child?”
The MSM gobbled it up. “I have little doubt that what shows up on the screen reflects what really happened,” wrote David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times.
But one thing is clear: The Obama team is terrified of Sarah Palin. Why else commission a movie from his buddies at HBO about a woman who’s not even running for office?
She is still a serious force. And no fool, she. Not to be obscure here, but you’re about to find out her true power.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.