Palin feared the worst about TV portrayal – and she was right

Juliannne Moore is cast as Alaska's presidential hopeful in a recreation of 2008 election race

Washington

She's back. Not, as Sarah Palin's still substantial band of believers would have wished it, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination – but as star of a television drama recreating her party's 2008 election campaign that turned her into the most famous female politician in America.

HBO's Game Change, based on part of the best-selling book of the same name by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, will air tonight. Its veracity may be questioned, but not the fact that the 10 weeks between her surprise choice as running mate by John McCain and the election were a real-life political melodrama beside which the current contest for the 2012 Republican nomination pales.

Mitt Romney may have further trouble in today's Kansas caucuses and Tuesday's primaries in the deep south states of Alabama and Mississippi, as he plods towards a triumph that seems as inevitable as it is unthrilling for the party's conservative base. Not so Palin in her meteoric flight across the political firmament in autumn 2008.

Film and television recreations of real politicians have a mixed track record. John Brolin's portrayal of George Bush Jnr in W was much praised, as was John Travolta's thinly-disguised Bill Clinton in Primary Colors, Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning rendering of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is simply brilliant. Others, less successful, simply do not ring true. Game Change, if the early reviews are any guide, most definitely falls into the first category.

No one emerges from it with much credit – not Mr McCain, solidly played by Ed Harris, nor Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager played by Woody Harrelson, and certainly not the lady herself. Julianne Moore's Palin comes across as a figure of stupendous ignorance, a capricious and self-promoting diva – oblivious to the distinction between fact and fiction.

Inevitably, the Palin camp has taken umbrage, describing Game Change as utter fiction. SarahPAC, her official Political Action Committee, has even released a short video entitled Game Change We Can Believe In, purporting to set the record straight. Mr Schmidt however, who has seen a preview, describes it as an "out-of-body experience". In other words, that it's spot on.

What is indisputable is that Ms Palin was summoned to the colours to give the Republican campaign a jolt of excitement to counter the Obama phenomenon. "This is a woman with a gun," says a McCain aide in Game Change, "the base is going to be doing backflips."

And so for a while it proved. Ms Palin was an initial sensation, drawing crowds and media coverage that eclipsed Mr McCain's. Gradually though, the operatives realise the calamity they have unleashed by persuading Mr McCain to put Ms Palin on the ticket. The disastrous CBS interview with Katie Couric first pricked the bubble. Then the stories emerged about the Palin wardrobe, the Palin wilfulness, and the tensions within the campaign caused by her.

Today, Ms Palin inhabits that bizarre universe, part politics, part showbiz, occupied by the likes of Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh. But even now, Mitt Romney would give his eye teeth for a quarter of her drawing power.

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