Opinion

‘The Sarah Palin I Know’

Then there is the issue of how she greatly (thanks largely to being an attractive and successful mother of five who is still in love with her husband who makes women like Joy Behar feel bad about themselves) exacerbates the gender gap, which is the Republican Achilles heel in presidential races.

And finally there is the already incredibly long list of negative on-the-record statements from Republicans about her and the inevitable avalanche of Obama endorsements which would come from Republican “leaders” looking to ingratiate themselves with the media.

Palin supporters look at all of this and laughably claim that, if given the opportunity, she can change people’s minds. This is simply impossible. I have no doubt that, if presented with the chance, she would exceed expectations in virtually every area of a campaign (except organization), but that would hardly matter at all.

People rarely change their minds about anything anymore and everything she does will be seen through the media’s intractable prism that she is not real bright, which will inevitably foster even more alleged missteps (the classic examples of this being the absurd presumption that when didn’t tell Couric what she reads that it was because she didn’t read anything and, more recently, the flap over her take on Paul Revere’s famous ride). The new documentary about her record in Alaska is a nice idea, but unless they somehow buy network television time to air it, it will have absolutely no significant political impact.

Quite simply, the evidence is overwhelming that Palin would get crushed by Obama in such a resounding fashion that it may even threaten the Republican hold on the House and the party’s presumed taking of the Senate. We largely dodged a bullet once with Obama having virtually no checks on his power. We can’t afford to take that chance again.

As for Mansour, after the resignation, she was summoned up to Alaska, quickly becoming Sarah’s hard-to-reach and unpredictable chief speechwriter and media handler, a job she still holds to this day. Presumably she’s changed her mind that any chance of Sarah reaching the White House is “over,” or has conveniently “forgotten” what is so incredibly obvious.

After the resignation, my most demoralizing experience with the Palin organization was yet to come. It began when the Simi Valley Republican Women’s group invited Sarah to be the headline speaker at their 50th anniversary gala at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. The event created intense press excitement because it was to be her first post-resignation event and it was to be at a place with obvious presidential significance.

The Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, stepfather of the Kardashian girls, bought two tables. So did a number of other big-wigs. Mostly it was going to be an audience of wealthy older ladies—enormous Palin fans. I got involved because I was asked to be the MC that evening, but when I checked-in with Meg and Rebecca, the alarms in my head started going off. “It’s on the schedule,” Rebecca told me. Meanwhile, Meg seemed to be implying that they couldn’t give the final confirmation until Palin was no longer officially governor. As the date got closer I got more and more concerned and even predicted on my radio show that I didn’t think it was a sure thing Palin would be there.

Then I got an e-mail from Sarah herself, asking, “Can you tell me about this Reagan Library event?” Given my past experiences with her, I thought, “Uh-oh.”

She didn’t show up. Or rather, she canceled with impossibly short notice. It got worse: her office put out one of it’s by now familiar statements, essentially blaming the Simi Valley women for what happened. They were left fuming, and wanted to go to the press, so it was up to me to extinguish the brush fire before it evolved into yet another excuse for the Palin-hating news networks to once again pile on. It’s since come to light in the book Blind Allegiance (by her former staffer Frank Bailey) that even Sarah’s own staff were shocked when she didn’t attend, something I didn’t know at the time.

What was she doing instead on that night? Writing her book, probably, which meant she was in San Diego, within driving distance of the Reagan Library. To add insult to injury, Bailey’s book also reveals that while Sarah was writing her memoir, she sent an e-mail to her ghostwriter, saying, “We need you to watch that Media Malpractice DVD we sent you. I finally watched it [and] it is very, very good at explaining some of the things that must be incl in book. Thanks.” Just to finish the strange circle on that element of the story, I ended up writing the first authorized review of that book, a tome which made absolutely no mention of the film.

Oh, and guess who had to give the speech in front of the restless Simi Valley crowd in the half-empty Air Force One pavilion in Sarah’s absence? Yeah, me. Cue another of the most agonizing moments of my life. Some of my own friends didn’t even bother coming. Most who’d bought tickets understandably elected to get their money back rather than hear me speak.

My relationship with Sarah hit another pothole early in 2010 when I advised her via e-mail that her upcoming speech to the Tea Party Convention in Nashville was creating controversy because the event was both expensive and for-profit.

She forwarded my message to her team, apparently forgetting to delete my address, with the comment, “If I have to suffer thru Ziegler’s e-mails, we ALL have to suffer thru.” Wow, that was a punch in the gut. Less than four minutes later, a panicked follow-up pinged into my Blackberry’s inbox: “John—pls [sic] know that was a joke!  . . . you’re [sic] advice is very good, we have announced I will not be financially gaining from the speech, we need to get that word out there.” In other words, she’d acted on the message, but also made sure to take a pot shot at the messenger of bad news.

One screw-up led to another. For example: the news show 60 Minutes did a Palin hit piece based loosely on the book Game Change, focusing at one point on the completely twisted claim, essentially created by the Washington Post, that Sarah thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. This was just not true. At her son’s deployment ceremony Sarah was clearly referring to al-Qaeda in Iraq, at a time when Saddam Hussein was dead!

So I prepped her with notes for a rebuttal, which she texted me that she had received and liked, but when she was asked about that issue on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, she butchered the answer, making it sound like 60 Minutes had got it right all along. That same week, she accepted a job as a commentator on Fox, which I thought was almost as damaging politically to her as resigning from the governorship. It meant she was giving up on the center—crucial to winning the presidency— and decided instead to sing to the choir.

Soon after that, she went on The Tonight Show, just blocks from where I was living. I was scheduled to be on Morning Joe on MSNBC very early the next morning. I asked the Palin team if I could simply attend the afternoon taping so that I could be prepared to defend her appearance without having to stay up very late before getting up absurdly early. Laughably, they actually told me that they had no ability to get any tickets to the very public and free taping.

On almost no sleep I did that show anyway and said that while she is clearly brilliant, that there was no way she could beat Obama in 2012, partially because of the choices she had recently made (resignation, Fox News instead of an over-the-air network, getting in bed with corrupt elements of the Tea Party, etc.).

Exasperated by the whole sorry situation, I sent Sarah and Todd an e-mail (which in retrospect was overly dramatic and really kind of silly) telling them that they obviously didn’t value my participation, so maybe it was best if we went our separate ways. Predictably, I got no response and we stopped all communication for several months.

The freeze between us didn’t last long, though. That autumn, Media Malpractice was re-released on video-on demand. Sarah and I posed for photographs together in San Diego to use for publicity, she Tweeted/Facebooked about it, and re-endorsed the film on radio. My loyalty to her was largely instantly regenerated.

I returned to writing columns on her behalf, still trying to correct the historical record about what really happened in 2008. In early May, I got the random call from Todd, apparently sounding me out about working on a potential campaign for Sarah (though I rarely knew for sure why Todd was really calling). By then, I’d already become convinced that she was actually going to run in 2012, so the conversation simply removed most of the remaining doubt. I actually considered it for a while as a Barry Goldwater-type campaign seemed fun—until I was reminded of all the frustrations that had been building since I was first jerked around by Sarah’s split-personality advisers back in 2008.

The first trigger was a story by this website detailing leaked tweets from Rebecca Mansour to a Palin supporter she didn’t even know. Mansour ripped into several prominent conservatives and even dissed Bristol Palin in a big way. At first she denied that the messages were hers and then finally admitted they were indeed from her (sound familiar at all?). Almost out of habit, I wrote to Sarah and Todd and offered to resign from writing columns in protest of the story. Once again, I got no response. Then I spoke to Tucker Carlson, the co-founder the site, and he said he’d actually had to redact many of Rebecca’s other remarks to protect the Palin family. It was clear no complaint was warranted.

After this came Blind Allegiance, which confirmed most of my worst suspicions about the various debacles that I’d been involved in on behalf of Sarah. When I asked Sarah and Todd for some sort of explanation, I again got no answer (in yet another irony, I did hear from Bailey and, after speaking to him, I actually think he is pretty credible).

Finally, as one last straw, Palin’s lawyer kept bugging me about sending him the “release” Sarah had signed for the movie, even though I had faxed it to her people at the time and I told him it was in remote storage because I had just moved. It seemed the only possible reason to even ask more than once about such a trivial issue was if they were somehow contemplating trying to make me the enemy, which was particularly aggravating because at virtually the same time I was going above and beyond the call of duty to help the new Palin film successfully navigate a potentially fatal legal issue. Regardless, it was insulting and clear that my loyalty meant very little to them. I was done. I could not longer work on behalf these people, no matter how good the Palins may be as or how clearly they have been wronged by the media.

All of which has left me wondering why she appears to be disregarding the advice of me and others as she seems ready to embark on this politically suicidal campaign. After all, contrary to popular belief, she is incredibly smart. Maybe she’s just getting bad advice from within her increasingly tiny and dysfunctional circle. Or perhaps she thinks it’s all good for her brand—which it probably is.

Whatever the case, the real enabler (in the ultimate irony) is the media. Without her, the Republican Party’s nominating process would be incredibly tedious and a commercial disaster at a time when news outlets pursue each tenth of a ratings point like crack addicts seeking their fix. Hence their paparazzi-like pursuit of the unorthadox and utterly newsless bus tour desperately hoping for a Hollywood starlet-like meltdown or a presidential announcement (or both).

Meanwhile, the conservative media is largely afraid to tell the truth about the dangers of a Palin campaign because they also fear a dull primary season, as well as offending the millions of Palin fans who make up the most loyal core of their audience. After all, beating Obama may not even be in their business interest.

Personally, I think one of the best ways to really understand Sarah Palin is to go back to 2008 and put yourself in her shoes when she got the call from John McCain that changed her life: you are the up-and-coming governor of the country’s most remote state; within the last couple of months you have given birth in your forties to a baby with Down Syndrome; and you’ve just found out that your unmarried teenage daughter is pregnant. You are surely questioning what you did to deserve all this as you survey your life suddenly in disarray. Then the phone rings, and instantly you’re being asked to run for Vice President of the United States! In an instant, everything makes sense: this is your destiny; you are meant by God for a higher purpose (interestingly, one of the very few relevant Palin e-mails that the media has found during their embarrassing spectacle over the past couple of days seems to substantiate that she indeed viewed things this way).

Since then, everything that has happened to her, and all that she has endured and achieved, is seen through that powerful prism. She is convinced all of this has happened for a reason. But whatever that higher purpose might be, it certainly won’t involve beating Barack Obama in 2012. I still hope it also doesn’t include ensuring his re-election.

If Sarah Palin still is the person I thought I knew, then she will do what is best for her cause and country by sitting this one out.

For more on Ziegler’s Palin-related experiences and to read his pre-emptive rebuttal of his critics go to:www.TheSarahPalinIKnow.com