I briefly served as a volunteer speechwriter on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. I was never part of the inner circle, and even if I had “dirt” to dish, I wouldn’t dare violate the confidentiality agreement I signed – even though that hasn’t stopped some former McCain campaign aides from publicly blaming Gov. Sarah Palin for everything that went wrong.
But here’s the truth about the McCain-Palin campaign, which HBO’s upcoming “Game Change” film attempts to shroud in fanciful anti-Palin fiction: Palin carried the campaign. She would have led the Republicans to victory had it not been for the September financial collapse and McCain’s disastrous decision to suspend his campaign so that he could vote for the TARP bailout in Washington.
The Democrats knew it, too. That fall, I was back in the classroom at Harvard Law School, surrounded by students and faculty who not only supported Sen. Barack Obama but were, in some cases, involved in his campaign at senior levels. They feared Palin and, after her arrival, could barely talk about the election without a sense of dread. They had no answer for her optimism, her authenticity, her femininity and her courage.
On the ground in New Hampshire, where I volunteered after classes and on weekends, Palin’s nomination had led to a sudden groundswell of support. Where McCain had struggled to fill an arena, lines outside events featuring Palin seemed miles long. She had awakened and rallied the conservative base.
And then, just as quickly, after the bailout vote, support for the Republican ticket collapsed. People who had greeted canvassers warmly just a few weeks before refused to talk to us. Some took razor blades and sliced their McCain-Palin bumper stickers so that only the “Palin” half remained (a few switched the names so that Palin was on top of the ticket). McCain changed the game – and Obama stuck to his strategy, casting himself as a beacon of stability in turbulent times. And he won.
After the election, when the Republican establishment began to self-destruct, Palin rallied the conservative base yet again. She became an important voice in the burgeoning Tea Party movement. She helped lead Republicans to the greatest congressional victory in several generations. Her success stopped the Obama agenda dead in its tracks. That’s a real “game change” worthy of a film – and the story’s still being written.