EASTON, Md., March 11, 2012 — The HBO movie “Game Change” was surprising on many levels:
- It was faithful to the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
- Julianne Moore was outstanding as Sarah Palin, giving a respectful performance without an ounce of parody.
- Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, the master mind behind John McCain’s campaign, like Ms. Moore deserves an Emmy.
- Sarah Palin comes across as a sympathetic character, someone plucked out of relative obscurity and thrust into the national spotlight without a real support system.
Yes, Governor Palin is extremely confident and of her abilities, bordering often on arrogance, but she sincerely believed her selection as McCain’s running mate was “God’s plan,” as she puts it. Plus McCain’s team acted like she was a Godsend, delivered to them to save the floundering and foundering McCain campaign.
As Schmidt tells Senator McCain (again another top-notch performance by Ed Harris) early in the movie, he needs a “game changer.” Obama is drawing crowds of 200,000 in Berlin and is mobbed everywhere he goes in the U.S. Even women who had said it was “Hillary or nobody” had hopped aboard the Obama bandwagon. What the Republicans needed was not another pasty-faced, white guy. They needed a woman, not any woman, but a woman with spunk.
They found her in the feisty governor of Alaska, who fought the oil companies and had stood up to the good old boys in the state GOP. She was good-looking, perky, assertive (this is before she became known as the Mama Grizzly), funny, and glib.
Everybody’s Campaign Darling
Everything was hunky-dory, and when she was unveiled as McCain’s running mate in Dayton, Ohio, she immediately became the media’s darling.
But — remember in politics there is always a but — her vetting process was only five days long (the usual time is closer to a month) and Schmidt never probed to see just what she knew about domestic and foreign policy issues. He liked that she had five children, one of them a special needs baby, and she liked to hunt moose. As one staffer said, “She’s a woman with a gun.” She was Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-God, and Pro-Family with all that they imply. She could fill in the missing pieces that McCain lacked for social conservatives. Then came the GOP convention speech and she knocked it out of the ballpark, even after her teleprompter failed her.
And so begins the story of Sarah Palin and the unraveling of a campaign. Once Palin’s messy family history was revealed (i.e., her own troopergate), once Palin’s media flubs began (the infamous Katie Couric interview), once her gaps in basic knowledge were uncovered (she thought the Queen ran the English government and didn’t even know it had a prime minister), and once the campaign staff realized they had a problem spelled S-A-R-A-H, Schmidt and his team had lost control of their candidate.
Palin wouldn’t be tutored and she sloughed off direction. And the more popular she was in front of crowds, the more her belief in her own abilities grew. Finally she was prepped for the debate with then Senator Joe Biden (though she still called him O’Biden), and she learned her lines and delivered them like a pro. However, by that time the campaign was already in free-fall. Not because of Sarah Palin. The McCain campaign had many other problems, including the candidate himself.
But on the night when John McCain conceded the election in a gracious and unifying speech, the high point for his supporters came when he thanked Sarah Palin and the house went crazy. The look on her face said it all.
Palin Changed the Face and Voice of the GOP
Sarah Palin was not going away. Not any time soon. If at all.
Not only did she not go away, her brand of Republican politics inspired the Party in a way no other candidate has, including the four guys running now in the primary. There are still those who lament she didn’t run this time around.
Thanks to Sarah Palin, the Republican Party is no longer the party of William F. Buckley, President George H.W. Bush, Senator Bob Dole, departing Senator Olympia Snow, sainted President Ronald Reagan, or even 2008 candidate John McCain.
Just ask House Majority Leader John Boehner. He is trying to lead a Republican Party spawned by Governor Palin. Thanks to her, the Right Wing of the Party now has a face and voice. She was — and still is — all fired up and ready to go. She knows how to sell a simple message, never straying from her point, never getting bogged down in details. She is the virtuoso of the sound bite, the wizard of patriotic themes, and the champion of her favorite retort, “Gotcha politics.”
Thanks to Palin, the Tea Party was galvanized, then energized, and then funded by Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. Through her they found their message of government is bad for us and President Obama personifies that philosophy.
Thanks to Palin, the GOP has been taken over by the Far Right, which had always been there, simmering, but faceless, dormant. Then along came Sarah, embodying all Conservatives believe in, able to coalesce them into grassroots organizations that worked first on her campaign and then in 2010 targeting key House races, toppling the Democrats.
And whenever they hesitated in their march to take back Washington, they had Sarah to whip them up with her sassy, spunky speeches.
Will Palin Be the Brokered Candidate?
The GOP primary candidates this past year saw her power when she drove her bus right through their campaigns, stopping them dead when she showed up at the Iowa State Fair. Her message to them: Stay on our message or stay out of the race. And just look where they are today, falling all over one another to burnish their super conservative credentials. Do you think they would be railing against contraception if they were not herded into the Far Right corner that social conservatives call “morality?”
Sarah Palin changed the political landscape by reframing the conservative message and delivering it in a style that takes no prisoners. And her followers eat it up.
So what does John McCain have to say about his former running mate and “Game Change?”On Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, McCain said, “I admire and respect her. I’m proud of our campaign, I’m grateful that she ran with me and I will always be proud of what we did.” Of course, this is the same McCain who when asked during the campaign to make Palin get in line with the campaign and cooperate more, refused, admitting he was afraid of what she would do if he did request that she be a better partner.
So whither Governor Palin, following the movie that showed her, warts, dimples, and all? Some say she could still be a contender this year if Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum doesn’t sew up the nomination, forcing the Republicans into a brokered convention.
She certainly would turn out the base. Just look at her performance last month at CPAC, where she brought the cheering audience to its feet when she said President Obama transformed “a shining city on a hill into a sinking ship. He mucked it up.”
Sounds like a woman, now that she is no longer under the thumbs of political handlers, who’s ready for a sprint to the White House.
So don’t cry for Sarah Palin after “Game Change.” Mama Grizzly never tires of red meat.
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