Palin for President? Not if McCain team can help it

The full scale of the tensions in the Republican election machine is emerging – and the allegations will do nothing for the running mate's ambitions

There was more war than there was peace on the McCain-Palin ticket, American voters are starting to learn, especially in the last few weeks of the presidential election as top lieutenants serving the senator from Arizona became increasingly appalled by the freelancing ways of the very well-dressed governor from Alaska.

Mr McCain barely knew Ms Palin when he chose her. And aside from those few rallies when they appeared together, for instance in Hershey, Pennsylvania, one week before polling day, they barely spoke to each on the trail, especially towards the end.

The recriminations will be flowing both ways. Ms Palin, who has returned to Alaska after commenting briefly on the tensions in Arizona on Wednesday, has more reason to manage the post-poll gossip-trading to her advantage than does Mr McCain. He is returning to his Senate job and his ambitions beyond are of the golfing variety. Not so Ms Palin, whom some see as a future leader of her party.

"There is absolutely no diva in me," she told reporters in Phoenix. If she meant it to be good-humoured, the context was much more brittle. Diva was the pejorative term applied to Ms Palin in the dying days of the campaign by an unidentified source in the McCain circle. On the day she and Mr McCain appeared together in Hershey, a writer for the Politico website reported a McCain aide calling her a "whack job".

That Ms Palin was at times disinclined to listen too closely to the guidance being offered by Mr McCain's advisers and had the capacity sometimes to head off in her own direction was on display even late on Tuesday, when ballot returns were painting the full extent of the ticket's disaster. As Mr McCain was preparing to give his concession speech in Phoenix, she announced she wanted to say some words too.

In fact, Ms Palin approached Mr McCain on Tuesday about speaking before him at the Biltmore Hotel and said she even had the speech prepared and in her pocket. Two of the senator's top aides had to step forward and tell her "No". Traditionally, running mates never take the microphone on polling day.

While the governor's concern now is protecting her reputation and her paths to higher office in the future, the priority of some staffers that were around Mr McCain is slightly different. They badly need scapegoats for everything that went wrong and Ms Palin comes to their minds faster than a moth to light.

Thus, with her barely back in the picture-windowed living room of her lakeside house in Wasilla, stories of incompetence, disrespect and general waywardness are spewing forth. Good heavens, who knew that she once received McCain aides in her hotel room dressed only in a towel? Or that she confidently imagined that Africa was a country (nowhere near Alaska or her bedroom) and not a continent?

While Mr McCain reportedly harboured some lingering admiration for Ms Palin and her talents, particularly as a campaigner, his top advisers reportedly lost patience with her very quickly indeed. We can assume that some of the stories emerging now are a little larded. But clearly something went awry, whether we are talking about awful television interviews or outrageous shopping sprees.

"I have absolutely no intention in engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me," Ms Palin said in Arizona. (Never mind that she has also taken time since Tuesday to explain how negative her feelings are about the media and its alleged unfair treatment of her.)

She would not, she said, "let the pettiness or maybe internal workings of a campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment." She was referring not to the McCain loss, but the Obama victory.

Even the reliably conservative Fox News channel may be turning against Governor Palin, however, being the first this week to report the consternation experienced by the McCain team on discovering that the governor really did think Africa was a country. Allegedly she also could not name the three countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement. They would be Canada, the US and Mexico.

We are also learning of the dismay in the McCain team after news broke last weekend of Ms Palin taking a prank call from a Canadian radio comedian claiming to be President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, during which she remarked she could be America's leader "maybe in eight years". It seems that no one from the Palin side told the McCain side that a call with M. Sarkozy (or not Sarkozy) was even on her schedule.

The wardrobe debacle is already the stuff of legend. It now seems Ms Palin was encouraged by a senior McCain aide to perhaps purchase three suits for the party convention in St Paul in early September and maybe three more for the campaign trail thereafter. When word surfaced that the Republican National Committee had splurged $150,000 on clothes for the governor, the McCain circle was beyond apoplectic. Some reports this week now say the amount may even have been tens of thousands higher than that.

What may have really cooked Ms Palin – the last polls before voting depicted her not as an asset to the ticket but as a drag – were her media appearances. We know that she was prepped intensely for her first big TV interview with Charlie Gibson of ABC and it went reasonably well. There was nowhere near so much preparation for her encounters afterwards with Katie Couric of CBS, however.

Some in the McCain orbit have asserted that Ms Palin refused pre-Couric prepping. Other sources have said the Alaskan governor didn't have the time or "bandwidth" for it. The conversations were recorded while Ms Palin was in New York meeting world leaders at the United Nations.

In any event, the interview was an absolute disaster, pure and simple. Garbled responses on the economic bail-out and, most famously, on Russia and its proximity to her lawn, gave rise to a second Palin – the one as played by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

Both may now disappear for a while. Some will miss them, but not those still loyal to Senator McCain.

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