Monday, December 20, 2010

Senate Takes Up START Debate as Clock Ticks for Lame-Duck Session

After months of haggling, the Senate is now considering one of President Obama's top foreign policy priorities for the lame-duck Congress -- the New START treaty that he signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to limit both countries' nuclear arsenals, replacing an expired 1991 agreement.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sen. Sanders Held a Tax Cut Filibuster (17.12.10)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrapped up an 8 ½ hour speech, or what his office called a “tax cut filibuster” on the Senate floor opposing the White House and Republican compromise on tax cuts and unemployment benefits. He began his speech at 10:25am saying, “I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.”

Liberals Gained Steam While Losing the Fight (15.12.10)

Liberals may feel that the compromise negotiated by President Barack Obama is a kick in the teeth, but the debate over Bush-era tax cuts has offered progressives a needed rallying point the month after devastating election losses, re-energizing a depressed Democratic base and allowing liberal groups to boost membership and raise tens of thousands of dollars in recent days.
They have also discovered a new hero: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the outspoken socialist who temporarily held the Senate’s tax debate hostage last week by refusing to stop talking or sit down for 8 hours and 36 minutes.
“You can call what I’m doing today whatever you want. You can call it a filibuster. You can call it a very long speech,” he said as he began Friday at 10:24 a.m. “I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle.”
But that’s exactly what he did.
His office reported receiving more than 10,000 phone calls and 9,000 e-mails — the vast majority were supportive — in the three days after his one-man filibuster, dubbed “Filibernie” on the Internet. Sanders’ Twitter followers jumped 160 percent in the past five days, from 9,600 to almost 25,000. And his Facebook “likes” ballooned by more than 17,000.
The money started flowing as well.
Various websites such as Is Bernie were quickly established to help Sanders, who is up for re-election in 2012 and reported a meager $111,000 in his campaign account at the end of September. Roll Call Politics rates this race Safe Independent.
The Democratic fundraising site ActBlue is hosting at least three separate fundraising portals that used Sanders’ newfound fame or the tax debate to generate money for the Senator and like-minded liberal groups.
One of them was Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, which created a fundraising page Tuesday titled “Back-up Bernie Sanders.” The group raised more than $75,000 from 3,769 individuals in less than 48 hours.
“Support a progressive hero ­— Please contribute $5 right now,” reads the website, which produced money for both the Senator and Democracy for America. “Bernie Sanders didn’t back down against long odds — he had the backbone to stand up and fight for what’s right. ... Let’s make sure that every Democrat in Washington gets the message: when you stand up and fight, we’ll have your back.”
Sanders was hardly the only beneficiary of bucking the president.
Other Democrats tied their opposition to the tax cut package to fundraising appeals this week as well. The campaign of Sen. Mark Udall, one of just 10 Democratic Senators to oppose ending debate on the issue earlier in the week, sent a message to supporters Tuesday with the subject line, “I voted No.”
“I stand ready to work through the holidays if that’s what it takes to get middle-class Coloradans the tax relief that they deserve,” Udall wrote in the accompanying message that included a “contribute” button that linked to a donation page. His staff could not immediately say how much the message produced. He’s not up for reelection until 2014.
There’s little doubt, however, that anyone who voted against the tax cut extension could face a political backlash.
A Senate aide acknowledged that it’s possible, if not likely, that the risk of standing alone on a difficult issue could outweigh any fundraising advantage.
“It’s an act of courage because this vote could easily be misrepresented and used against them in their next election,” the aide said. “How much money is it going to take to defend that vote if it’s used against you?”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted no time in doing just that.
The GOP’s Senate campaign arm already blasted Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat up for re-election in 2012, for opposing the motion to end debate on the tax bill earlier in the week. “Sherrod Brown Stands To Left of Obama, Joins Socialist Colleague To Vote For Massive Tax Hike,” reads the headline of the recent NRSC press release.
While 14 Democrats voted “no,” Brown ultimately voted for the bill Wednesday, explaining to reporters he’d “changed his mind” after Ohioans sent him letters.
The conservative group American Crossroads is also using the issue to apply political pressure, spending $400,000 this week to broadcast radio attack ads against 12 vulnerable House Democrats, demanding that they support the measure.
But liberal outside groups energized by the tax debate hope to neutralize the Republican attacks while boosting their own strength., for example, flooded the Senate switchboard this week with an estimated 20,000 calls on Monday alone for a “phone-in filibuster” to protest the inclusion of Bush-era tax cuts. Last week, a New York-based progressive group shut down the White House switchboard with calls opposing Obama’s deal with Republicans.
“We also gathered thousands of Facebook posts and tweets about our campaign,” MoveOn leaders wrote supporters Tuesday. “This is exactly the grassroots surge we need to demand a better deal for the middle class.”
And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reported a 25,000-person membership boost in recent weeks as it aggressively challenged Obama’s decision to compromise with the GOP.
Co-founder Adam Green said his organization also raised more than $100,000 since the tax debate began, which helped fuel a series of television ads in Iowa, Indiana and Washington, D.C., that use the president’s words against him. The ads feature Obama complaining about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the campaign trail in 2008 for having flip-flopped on tax cuts for the rich. “George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience and they still offend yours,” Obama says in the ad.
Green said PCCC members believe Obama is “demobilizing his own troops at Organizing for America and demoralizing independent and Democratic voters right before he seeks re-election.”
Sanders, meanwhile, simply said he was grateful: “Frankly, the response from Vermonters and Americans all across the country was far beyond anything we could have imagined.”


Today the House Republican Leadership released the voting schedule for 2011.  Over the course of the next year we will work to address the top concerns of the American people, including creating jobs, growing the economy, and balancing the budget in the long-term. 
Please click here to find the schedule for the U.S. House of Representatives for calendar year 2011.
Steny H. Hoyer, Majority Leader

If you have any questions please contact: Alexis Covey-Brandt, Austin Burnes or Michael Eisenberg at 5-3130.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

BERNANKE’S BETE NOIRE: Ron Paul has been named the next chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy(14.12.10)

Ron Paul has been named the next chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy. Put more succinctly, the libertarian Texan now will be wielding a gavel over the Federal Reserve. (His main campaign theme as the nascent tea party’s favorite 2008 presidential campaign was that the Fed should be abolished.) So unless Boehner reins him in, Paul will have all the power he needs to push legislation limiting the power of the central bank and promoting gold and silver as legal tender — and to summon Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to a public inquisition whenever he wants. The market moving possibilities (and the headaches for commercial bank lobbyists) seem almost limitless.

Although he’s starting his 11th full term, this will be the first time Paul has occupied the top GOP seat on any subcommittee, mainly because he’s been peripatetic about his committee assignments during his separate stints in the House. His initial legislative push will be for a full-fledged Fed audit. (He got only a very limited audit into the financial services overhaul.)

Monday, December 6, 2010


Congress is debating tax rates, and that has Wall Street nervously eyeing the calendar.
Worried that lawmakers will allow taxes to rise for the wealthiest Americans beginning next year, financial firms are discussing whether to move up their bonus payouts from next year to this month.
At stake is a portion of the hefty annual payouts that are a familiar part of the compensation culture on Wall Street, as well as a juicy target of popular anger. If Congress does not extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest income levels, a typical worker who earns a $1 million bonus would pay $40,000 to $50,000 more in taxes next year than this year, depending on base salary.
Goldman Sachs is one of the companies discussing how to time bonus season, according to three people who have been briefed on the discussions. Pay consultants who work with major Wall Street companies say that just about every other large bank has also considered such a move in recent weeks.
With tax politics in Washington unpredictable, bank executives have spent months sketching out several options for their bonus plans, including the possibility of an earlier payout. Lawmakers have been trading accusations across a partisan divide, but after this weekend, it appears likely that a compromise will extend the tax cuts for all income levels.
Even so, the banks’ discussions about bonus timing underscore how focused the industry is on protecting every dollar of pay.
A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment. Bonus payouts are traditionally shrouded in secrecy; companies are required to disclose their top executives’ pay, but they do not disclose the size of their total bonus pools in their public filings or internally.
Goldman, not surprisingly, is the canary in the coal mine. It often announces its top executives’ bonuses before other firms, and the richness of its payouts sets the tone across the industry.
This year the tax debate has imposed a new wrinkle, and executives at two large banks said their companies tentatively decided not to speed payouts, unless Goldman did. Then, these two executives said, they would consider paying early as a competitive measure, so that their workers were not upset.
Bonus timing is also being discussed at scores of public companies, beyond banks, for top executives who receive multimillion-dollar payouts around the turn of the year. At most companies outside the financial sector, an early bonus would help only a handful of executives, while on Wall Street, the benefit would apply to many more workers.
“This has been a topic of conversation among those of us who are involved in designing and administrating compensation plans,” said Brian Foley, a pay consultant in White Plains, N.Y. “But I really would be surprised if anyone went down this path. This is a bounce-back year in terms of bonuses going up and probably not the time to draw attention to yourself.”
Wall Street firms pay out billions of dollars in bonuses each year. In good years top executives can receive bonuses worth tens of millions of dollars. Even midlevel financial workers often earn above $250,000 a year, and they receive most of their compensation as bonuses paid early in the new year.
Extending the tax cuts for all Americans with taxable income over $250,000 for joint filers ($200,000 for single filers) would cost the country about $40 billion next year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and it would cost $700 billion over the next decade.
Currently the highest rate for taxable income is 35 percent; that would increase to 39.6 percent if the Bush tax cuts expire.
The top
five Wall Street
firms have put aside nearly $90 billion for total pay this year, and they are expected to raise that amount using their end of year earnings. That would make this year one of the best ever for bank pay.
As Mr. Foley said, much of the focus within banks is on the appearance of the payouts. Several senior banking executives received either no bonuses or modest ones in recent years, and with the taxpayer-financed bailouts receding, top executives are pushing to be paid well again.
Some compensation consultants have been helping their clients devise new labels for the pay that are less likely to inflame the public. For instance, some banks are considering reducing the amount of their payouts that are labeled as bonuses, and instead shifting some to other categories like “long-term incentives.”
Depending on how banks structure this part of the payout package, it might not represent much of a change for bankers, since it has long been standard practice to tie up some pay for a few years for retention purposes. But, some bankers said, the goal was to make the dollar amounts appear less offensive.
Bankers are also discussing speeding up the way they award company stock, so workers can benefit from this year’s lower income tax rates for those earnings. Many banks pay a substantial portion of bonuses in stock, rather than cash, and companies often have a multiyear delay between when those shares are awarded and when the employees can sell them. The tax bill does not come due until employees sell the shares, or own them outright.
Robert J. Jackson Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School who helped oversee the Treasury Department’s rules on compensation at bailed-out companies, said he would look carefully at footnotes in company filings to see if they accelerated executives’ stock awards. “Even companies who pay in stock instead of cash can structure it to be taxed at this year’s rates,” Mr. Jackson said. “If it does happen, it may be a little tricky to see.”
It is not uncommon for Wall Street to consider the tax consequences of its pay practices. Private firms like hedge funds often let workers choose when they’re paid. And until about a decade ago, Goldman allowed its partners to decide whether they received their bonuses in December or January. Back then, Goldman was an investment bank, and like other former investment banks, it closed its books at the end of November, making it easier to pay earlier.
One of the challenges for the banks in paying bonuses early would be coming out with exact amounts before the year is over and before they determine their final earnings — a lengthy process. Banks have in the past found ways to get around rules, or make their workers’ pay look lower than it actually was. For instance, a year ago Goldman capped the pay of all of its London workers at £1 million each. But last summer, Goldman made it up to its partners in Britain, albeit quietly. The bank made dozens of multimillion-dollar stock grants to its partners there, according to a person briefed on their pay who was not authorized to discuss it. Credit Suisse, in similar form, paid its British bankers summer cash bonuses to make up for their lower pay last year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Members See Little Recourse for WikiLeaks (01.12.10)

Members of Congress decried the release of more than 250,000 secret State Department cables by WikiLeaks — including some that exposed private talks between Members and foreign leaders — saying it could hamper future Congressional involvement abroad. But it was unclear Monday whether there is much Congress can do about the leaks. “I feel personally violated,” said Rep. Jane Harman, whose name appears in a cable posted by WikiLeaks describing a conversation between a Congressional delegation, or CODEL, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding what to do about Iran’s nuclear program. The alleged 2009 cable describes Netanyahu pressing the Americans repeatedly in what appears to be an effort to pin them down on whether the United States is ultimately prepared to go to war. “Leaning forward, Netanyahu repeated his earlier question: ‘What will you do if it does not work?’ Netanyahu said that learning to live with a nuclear Iran would be a big mistake, which would lead to a different, more dangerous world. While he noted that he could not say for certain that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel, if Iran had a bomb Israelis would have to ask that question every day....For a third time, Netanyahu asked, ‘What are you going to do?’” The cable does not mention a response from the CODEL, and Harman said in an interview Monday that she could not discuss it. “The irony here is it’s still a secret cable,” the California Democrat said. “It hasn’t been declassified. I can’t discuss the contents. I can discuss how I feel about this. It is ironic, isn’t it?” Harman said the releases could damage the value of future CODELs. “If conversations are not protected, some conversations will not occur,” she said, adding that the whole point of a CODEL is to have candid conversations with major players. The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to get a briefing on the leaks in closed session Wednesday with senior intelligence officials and the State Department. Other committees also plan to hold hearings, said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But beyond hearings, it’s not clear if Congress will take any action regarding the matter. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry declined in a brief interview Monday to discuss other cables in which his CODELs were detailed, but he also said those who leaked the documents should be brought to justice. Asked what he thought Congress should do, the Massachusetts Democrat referred to the administration, which is investigating the leaks. “I think there needs to be prosecutor action. I think it’s treasonous, outrageous, counterproductive, dangerous,” he said. “It impacts people’s ability to have honest conversation and talk to you directly ... It complicates diplomacy enormously.”
Kerry said it could also harm security by making some countries, such as Yemen, unwilling to cooperate in fighting terrorism for fear that their leaders’ private conversations will be exposed.
Several Republicans also condemned the leaks. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, called the release an embarrassment to the Obama administration and a failure of the Pentagon and the intelligence community, and he called for Congressional hearings on the matter. “The problem here is there was a massive failure in the design of this database,” the Michigan Republican said. “I’m expecting there will be hearings, maybe even a commission, looking at this massive failure.” Hoekstra said he has been told that at least 500,000 people and as many as 2.5 million had access to the database. “How do you make it available to the private first class in Baghdad?” Hoekstra asked, referring to the alleged leaker of the information. “Are we that bad? And the answer appears to be yes.” Rep. Peter King, who is in line to become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, on Sunday called for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for espionage, and he urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to designate WikiLeaks as a terrorist group. “WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States,” the New York Republican said. “I strongly urge you to work within the administration to use every offensive capability of the U.S. government to prevent further damaging releases by WikiLeaks.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration was not ruling out taking legal action against WikiLeaks.
“Administration-wide, we are looking at a whole host of things and I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Gibbs said at his daily press briefing Monday, calling the leak “a serious violation of the law.” But Harman said she didn’t agree with King. She said that she didn’t think WikiLeaks itself should be prosecuted, adding that she favors a media shield law. She also said that she supports giving the public more information, but not a massive dump of sensitive information such as the latest WikiLeaks trove. “I support increased access to government information, and it’s my bill [President] Obama just signed to reduce overclassification of information, but that doesn’t mean I’m for dumping classified information out on the streets,” she said. Hoekstra said he agrees with Harman that there is too much overclassification. But he said it’s an interesting question of whether WikiLeaks, the New York Times or any other organization involved in the leak can be prosecuted. “The bottom line is we’ve got to create an environment where we have a higher degree of confidence where we can keep information secret that needs to be secret,” he said.
Sen. Kit Bond, ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also demanded answers.
“The [Intelligence] Committee members need a dedicated briefing or hearing about the extent of the damage, what the [intelligence community] is doing to mitigate damage, and what the U.S. government is doing to try to stop such leaks in the future,” the Missouri Republican said. “I also would like to know how someone had such unfettered access to this information that he could go unnoticed while downloading

Road Map: Still No Agenda for Lame Duck

Road Map: Still No Agenda for Lame Duck (30.11.10)

Republicans and Democrats appear content to end the 111th Congress the way it started, by following a “change” election with a round of fiercely partisan fighting over an agenda that even many Democrats have little interest in. In fact, the House and Senate returned to Washington, D.C., on Monday for the lame duck with few solid details about what will be on their plates beyond partisanship. House Democrats may stay in through Dec. 17 as the Senate is expected to do. Or Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) may send her troops home at week’s end and call them to the Capitol only after the Senate finishes work on a long-term continuing resolution that keeps the government funded and operating. Senate Democrats have an agenda packed with political items such as a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but on the biggest issue of the lame duck — how to handle the expiration of the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts — the way forward won’t be decided until after today’s special Conference meeting. “I think we’re going to have to kind of come to grips with the realities of how much time is left and what’s real and what can really pass. And what the scale of importance is of some of those things,” Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Monday. “We’ll just have to take stock.” Aside from resolving the immediate funding problem of a CR that expires Friday, the only certainty is that despite elections earlier this month signaling the public’s demand for more change, neither party seems eager to find bipartisan agreement on anything of consequence. That dynamic is particularly on display in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced that — objections from within his party notwithstanding — he will force votes on DADT repeal and a package of modest immigration reforms. “Most Republicans assumed Democrats would come back with a modified tone, a modified agenda to reflect what happened on Nov. 2, and that just didn’t happen,” a senior Senate GOP aide said, adding that Republicans see no need to shift their own approach. “I think we feel like we’re on solid ground on the policy, and I think we’ve proven over the last two months we’re on solid ground politically,” the aide said. Democrats counter with their own refrain that the lack of action on these items — which is holding up work on taxes and a CR — is a direct result of the GOP’s intransigence and that it is Republicans who should have learned a lesson from the elections. “We could do things a lot faster if Republicans wouldn’t filibuster everything,” a Democratic leadership aide said Monday. “Our hope [was] that after the elections, things would change. But they haven’t,” the aide added. Even on the issue of what to do with the tax cuts, partisanship is likely to carry the day, at least in the short term. Reid and Pelosi are both set on pursuing at least one vote on legislation extending only the middle-class tax cuts, which has long been the priority of Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill, in order to put members of both parties on record. The idea, according to Democratic aides in both chambers, is to choreograph as many votes as possible with Republicans voting against middle-class tax cuts so candidates can use those votes against the GOP in the 2012 election cycle. After that, however, things become less clear. Reid and his colleagues are hoping today’s nearly four-hour, closed-door caucus meeting will yield a strategy on the tax issue. Several Democratic aides predicted that while Reid has committed to holding a vote on the middle-class-only legislation and a GOP version extending all the tax cuts, he could pursue a number of compromise bills that fall between the two. One option would be to offer a series of bills that incrementally raise the income level defining middle class from $250,000. A second option would be a bill that permanently extends the middle-class cuts — but only extends them for top earners for two or three years. The rest of the House’s schedule remains in flux as lawmakers scramble to wrap up their work for the year. One item that seems destined for attention is child nutrition. Later this week, the House is slated to send that bill, which has been a priority of first lady Michelle Obama, to the president for his signature.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Obama on START treaty: 'There is No Higher National Security Priority for the Lame-Duck Session of Congress'

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, and Ann Compton report:
Flanked by Republican and Democratic former Secretaries of State, Defense Secretaries, and members of his administration, President Obama made a full court press from the Roosevelt Room of the White House for ratification of the New START treaty before the end of the year, casting it as a national security imperative that cannot be jeopardized nor gambled with.
“There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high,” Obama said. “This is not about politics. It's about national security.
Using the words of President Ronald Reagan, Obama said that the nation needs to trust but verify with Russia.
“In order for us to verify, we've got to have a treaty,” he said, “This is not a matter that can be delayed. Every month that goes by without a treaty means that we are not able to verify what's happening on the ground in Russia. And if we delay indefinitely, American leadership on nonproliferation and America's national security will be weakened.”
Casting it in stark terms of what would happen should a treaty not be ratified, the president continued, “no inspectors, no insights into Russia's strategic arsenal, no framework for cooperation between the world's two nuclear superpowers.”
The president said that additionally Russia has been fundamental to the US’s efforts elsewhere, putting pressuring on Iran to deal with its nuclear program and supporting troops in Afghanistan.
“We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia's strategic nuclear arms, and we can't jeopardize the progress that we've made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran. These are all national interests of the highest order.”
The White House brought together today specifically Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State and Defense secretaries to show bipartisan support of this treaty, which Obama today made a note of.
“This New START treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue. This is not a Democratic concept; this is not a Republican concept. But this is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now my administration.”
The president said they have taken the time to do the treaty right, with over 18 hearings on the subject with multiple briefings, and has been “fully and carefully vetted” by the nation’s military leadership.
Mentioning Senator Kyl specifically, the president also brought up their agreement to request an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years to modernizing the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. The president said he has tasked Vice President Biden to focus on this issue “day and night,” until it gets done.
“Now, Senator Reid said yesterday there is time on the Senate calendar to get this treaty ratified this year,” Obama said “It’s important to our national security to let the -- let this treaty go up for a vote.
Asked if the he has the votes to get this done, the president said he is “confident” that he “should” be able to get them.
“Keep in mind that every president since Ronald Reagan has presented an arms treaty with Russia and been able to get ratification. And for the most part, you know, these treaties have been debated on the merits. The majority of them have passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support. There's no reason that we shouldn't be able to get that done this time as well.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NYT - The Palin Network

The Palin Network
On the night of the midterm elections earlier this month, Sarah Palin stayed up until 3 in the morning. From her hotel bedroom in Manhattan, she and her husband, Todd, followed the returns while she wrote e-mails on her iPad — congratulating winners, consoling losers — while reading others from people who wanted her to know that they had cast their vote for her daughter Bristol on “Dancing With the Stars” the evening before. Like much of her recent life, Palin’s day had been replete with reminders of the clout she had rapidly acquired. She had spent most of her time ensconced at the Fox television studios, though she managed to squeeze in a jog in Central Park — which she promptly chronicled on Twitter: “Beautiful!” Also at the studios was her fellow Fox News contributor Karl Rove, who had recently questioned in a British newspaper whether Palin’s new reality TV series, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” made her appear Oval Office-worthy. The building was abuzz over what would ensue when the two would inevitably bump into each other. The moment came after Palin finished a segment with the anchor Bret Baier and saw Rove lingering stageside with Brit Hume, a Fox colleague, holding a well-marked copy of “Alaska for Dummies” — a prop clearly intended to mollify Palin. She laughed, used her phone’s camera to take a picture of Rove with the book, traded brief hellos and then left the studio without mentioning Rove’s earlier comment.
Of course, Palin’s purpose for being at Fox on Nov. 2 was to share her views on the midterm elections that she worked so vigorously to influence. It was indicative of the competing demands on her time that her participation in the campaign’s final days was weirdly anticlimactic. In the three weeks before the elections, Palin was bombarded with campaigning requests, many of them sent to her personal e-mail account. But her young son, Trig, was to have an operation — routine but still worrisome — on the Friday before Election Day, and so the mother was loath to commit to anything. Trig’s procedure went well. That evening, Palin’s political adviser, Andrew Davis, pulled an all-nighter arranging for her to make a Saturday drop-in on behalf of John Raese, the West Virginia senatorial candidate who was trailing the Democratic nominee, Joe Manchin, the popular governor. Raese’s wife, Elizabeth, had issued a personal plea to Palin to save the day.
After Palin arrived in Charleston, and exhorted the state’s “mountain mamas” to “keep Manchin in the mansion,” she and Todd flew to New York on Saturday afternoon. She was still mulling over several invitations to campaign along the Eastern Seaboard. One was a Tea Party Express event in Wilmington, Del., in support of the controversial senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell. Palin’s endorsement of O’Donnell over a more-moderate candidate had been catalytic to her primary victory. Later Palin authorized an adviser, Randy Scheunemann, and two others to go to Wilmington to help O’Donnell in her debate preparation. But this particular event for the woman who proclaimed “I’m not a witch” was on Sunday — Halloween — and Palin prudently elected not to attend. Instead, she spent the afternoon watching the New York Jets play from the luxury box of the team’s owner, Woody Johnson.
In Syracuse, meanwhile, the campaign staff for the Republican Congressional candidate Ann Marie Buerkle, who had erased her Democratic opponent’s double-digit lead, was begging for Palin to make an appearance. Despite significant logistical complications, Palin wanted to oblige them. But a story in Politico (“Next for G.O.P. Leaders: Stopping Sarah Palin”) that quoted unnamed party operatives fretting over Palin’s growing popularity had her juices flowing, and her schedule suddenly became cluttered with Fox segments, which allowed her a platform to fight back. (“Some within the establishment don’t like the fact that I won’t back down to a good-old-boys’ club,” she declared on Fox Business Network.) On the day before the elections, she could find time to record only one final robocall of more than 25 she made throughout the campaign cycle — this one for Tom Tancredo, a third-party candidate for governor of Colorado whose strident remarks about illegal immigration made him a “destructive” force according to the Tea Party leader Dick Armey.
As it developed, Tancredo would lose by 14 points and Raese by 10, while Buerkle’s race was so close that a recount was imminent. The fate of another endorsee, Joe Miller — who was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Alaska against a Palin nemesis, Lisa Murkowski — remained in doubt. Palin had thrown her early support to two candidates backed by the Tea Party who wound up losing, O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, which helped the Democratic Party retain control of the Senate. Nonetheless, it was a good night in Palin’s estimation: a majority of her endorsees won, the Republicans took the House and Bristol survived another round of voting on “Dancing With the Stars.” After three or four hours of sleep, the Palins took a commercial flight (economy class) out of Kennedy Airport on the morning of Nov. 3, headed back to Wasilla, Alaska.
Andrew Davis, her adviser, saw the Palins off, and I met him for coffee later that morning in Midtown Manhattan. Davis is a personable and quick-witted 33-year-old Massachusetts native who was a deputy campaign manager for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2004 and later an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee before working with Palin at the close of the 2008 campaign. He’s nonetheless low-profile in the extreme, like all of Palin’s senior associates. (The New York Times Magazine’s photo editors had been trying to find an image of Davis; he assured me that they would not succeed.) Davis and his colleagues recognize that the issue of trust informs Sarah Palin’s every dealing with the world beyond Wasilla since her circular-firing-squad experience at the close of the 2008 presidential campaign. Her inner circle shuns the media and would speak to me only after Palin authorized it, a process that took months. They are content to labor in a world without hierarchy or even job descriptions — “None of us has titles,” Davis said — and where the adhesive is a personal devotion to Palin rather than the furtherance of her political career.
Davis’s main task this year had been serving as Palin’s point man throughout the endorsement process. He was now tallying her midterm scorecard, which at the time was 50 wins and 32 losses (with 8 not yet decided), including victories by 14 so-called mama grizzly Republican candidates. Some of Palin’s picks were early, bold and pivotal, as in the case of Nikki Haley, who is now South Carolina’s governor-elect. Other picks — like those for Tim Scott (South Carolina’s first Republican African-American congressman in more than a century) and Marco Rubio (the incoming senator from Florida and a rising G.O.P. star on par with Palin) — came too late to be consequential except, perhaps, to her own ambitions. Palin also raised more than $10 million for Republican candidates and committees — including the Republican National Committee, which plastered her image on the center of its Web page at the close of the election cycle. Having crawled from the wreckage of the 2008 presidential campaign and her much-derided resignation as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin had emerged as arguably the most captivating and influential Republican in America — and therefore a viable contender for the presidential nomination in 2012.
So I asked her political adviser whether there would be a summoning of the troops in the coming days to discuss what the next moves will be. Davis laughed and replied, “That’s not going to happen.” Each of them, he said, would simply be doing the work that was in front of them that day, the way things always operated in Palin World. I brought up an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken three weeks before, which concluded that Palin’s favorability rating among registered voters stood at 39 percent, while 54 percent viewed her unfavorably and a whopping 67 percent saw her as unqualified to be president. “On a staff level, we all think about ways we can improve her numbers,” Davis said. “It’s politics — that’s our job.” But, I pressed, had he discussed the subject with her? “I’m not going to sit around and ask her, ‘What do you think of your approval rating?’ ” Davis said. “I’m just not.” Then he added, “Maybe the family’s talked about it.”
“I am,” Sarah Palin told me the next day when I asked her if she was already weighing a run for president. “I’m engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here.” Palin went on to say that there weren’t meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls “but that in fact there’s more to the presidency than that” and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table.
“Yes, the organization would have to change,” Palin said during an hourlong phone conversation. “I’d have to bring in more people — more people who are trustworthy,” she clarified. Palin said that her experience as John McCain’s running mate was for the most part “amazing, wonderful, do it again in a heartbeat.” But she added, “What Todd and I learned was that the view inside the bus was much better than underneath it, and we knew we got thrown under it by certain aides who weren’t principled” and that “the experience taught us, yes, to be on guard and be very discerning about who we can and can’t trust in the political arena.”
She went on: “I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn’t have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That’s the most frustrating thing for me — the warped and perverted description of my record and what I’ve accomplished over the last two decades. It’s been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life. And other candidates haven’t faced these criticisms the way I have.”
I asked her if by avoiding the national press, she didn’t bear at least some responsibility for the way the public viewed her. “I’m on television nearly every single day with reporters,” she shot back. “Now granted, that’s mainly through my job at Fox News, and I’m very proud to be associated with them, but I’m not avoiding anything or anybody. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I’m out there. I want to talk about my record, though.” Palin was referring to “getting in there and cleaning up corruption, taking on the oil companies and the good old boys in the party, things like the natural-gas pipeline” and “getting things out of the government’s hands, like the state-owned dairy creamery in Alaska.” Asked if she believed in 2008 that these accomplishments made her at least as qualified as Barack Obama to be president, her response was immediate: “Absolutely. If I had any doubt in my ability or administrative experience that would’ve been put to good use in a McCain administration, then I never would have accepted the nomination.”
Palin told me that because of the media’s unfairness toward her, “I fear for our democracy.” She cited a recent Anchorage Daily News article that commented on her casual manner of dress at a rally for Joe Miller, as well as a Politico headline that used the word “drama” for an item about Representative Michele Bachmann’s quest for a Republican leadership position. Palin viewed these references as sexist — but also, she said, as “distractions.”
Purposefully distracting, I asked, or just simplistic? “How can it be simplistic?” she scoffed. “They’re the elite,” she said sarcastically of news organizations. “They know much more than I know and other people like me! So, no. They know just what they’re doing.”
Sarah Palin’s withering regard for the media co-exists with the fact that Sarah Palin is a media sensation. Throughout this year’s midterm cycle, no one commanded as much free time on the air as Palin, who of course wasn’t running for office herself. Her mere presence or nonpresence at various campaign events — or the distance that wary Republican candidates kept from her — routinely eclipsed whatever else took place at the events themselves. Concurrently, Palin’s denunciations of the Obama White House via Twitter garnered substantial attention not because the opinions were especially novel but because they were expressed with the brashness of a wily headline-grabber. All of this in addition to the fact that Palin, a former journalism major and sportscaster, happens to be a member of the media herself: a salaried Fox News contributor, the star of her own television series and a best-selling author whose second book, “America by Heart,” will be released by HarperCollins this week with a first printing of 1 million copies and her pick of promotional slots offered up by her adversaries in the press.
Almost everything about Palin is fresh, including her wounds. “She gives as good as she gets,” says the admiring former Republican strategist Mary Matalin. “But I don’t know her well enough to know if she’s developed the thick skin you need to be endlessly resilient, the way Reagan could take things for decades and let them roll off his back.” Like many Republicans, Palin hails Reagan as her political guiding light. But she has yet to channel the Gipper’s soothing sunniness, instead she seems haloed in static electricity — “a walking wedge issue,” as one leading conservative commentator recently described her. The road to a presidential candidacy traditionally involves a carefully sequenced gathering of tribes and marking of territory. Palin has ignored this playbook. Her only-dead-fish-go-with-the-flow improvisatory ethic is certifiably anti-Beltway and confers on Palin an aura of authenticity. It is also erratic and short on self-discipline, reminding us that Sarah Palin’s ascendency is recent and she remains a work in progress — all the while casting a very long shadow over the Republican Party, shaped like a question mark.
One afternoon in June 2009, Gov. Sarah Palin was sitting in the Washington office of her friend Fred Malek, whom she met through McCain during the 2008 campaign. She was listening to the former White House aide to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford map out logical next steps to her political career. Focus on amassing a good record as governor, he advised her. Run for a second term. Develop some policy expertise. Do some extensive overseas travel. Generate some good will by campaigning for fellow Republicans.
Malek told me that he could tell that this wasn’t what Palin wanted to hear. Here’s the problem, she replied impatiently: I’ve got a long commute from my house to my office. I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.
Nothing in her former world as a small-town mayor and the governor of a sparsely populated state prepared Palin for the perverse celebrity that would engulf her after being selected as McCain’s vice-presidential candidate. For better and for worse, she was now a household name, beloved or ridiculed by strangers all across America. The caricature of Palin as a vapid, winking, press-averse clotheshorse proved irresistible to late-night entertainers. Less well known was the Palin who agitated for more access to the media (other than Katie Couric), who was seen more than once passed out on her hotel bed half-buried in briefing books and index cards and whose thriftiness when it came to her wardrobe was so obvious that one senior strategist clucked of the Palins, “These people shop at Dillards!”
The advisers who strenuously advocated for McCain to select Palin seemed as unprepared for her as they would later claim she was for the national stage. They had planned on deploying Palin like a conventional vice-presidential candidate — fund-raisers, secondary markets — but otherwise stowing her away for heavy debate prep. Instead, “because she was a much bigger draw at rallies than McCain himself,” a former adviser says, the budget for her side of the campaign “quadrupled from what they’d anticipated; the amount of personnel had to be ratcheted up, and dealing with the Palin phenomenon came to consume much of [senior strategist Steve] Schmidt’s time.” Adoring fans screamed “Sarah! Sarah!” and wept as she greeted them on rope lines, but away from the crowds she felt increasingly isolated from her Alaska clan and distrustful of the staff members who would soon be anonymously criticizing her in the media. During Palin’s debate prep sessions in Philadelphia, Senator Joe Lieberman was summoned to offer support to the overwhelmed and demoralized candidate. “Schmidt says to me, ‘You’ve got something in common with her that we don’t have: you’re both religious,’ ” Lieberman told me. “He actually said, ‘Why don’t you go in and pray with her? She was on the phone yesterday with [former Gov. Kay Orr of Nebraska], and they’d prayed at the end, and it seemed to make her feel better. ’ ”
Upon losing the election, Palin hoped to return to an Alaska where, as she put it to me, “people were thankful that I was in the governor’s office.” It therefore chagrined her when she learned that Democratic legislators like Hollis French and Beth Kerttula were no longer her allies. McCain’s staff, meanwhile, reneged on a promise to cover the costs for any legal inquiry that arose during the campaign, Palin told me.
A few friends from the Beltway rushed to her defense. In December 2008, John Coale, a lawyer and a Democrat whose wife is the Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, offered to set up a political action committee and a legal-defense fund for her. Fred Malek, meanwhile, began connecting Palin to his Beltway cohort. At Malek’s home in McLean, Va., the night before the clubby annual Washington gala known as the Alfalfa Club dinner, he introduced her to Alan Greenspan, Madeleine Albright, Dianne Feinstein, Andrea Mitchell, Mitch McConnell, Walter Isaacson and Dick and Liz Cheney, among others. (To Liz she exclaimed, “It’s so great to meet another mother of five!”) Later Malek hosted a foreign-policy lunch discussion with Palin; Frank Carlucci, a former secretary of defense under Reagan; Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution; and Gregory Newbold, a retired three-star general. Talbott received an appreciative grin from Palin when he told her that he himself had seen Russia from an island off the coast of Alaska — “I defended you on that.”
Three weeks after telling Malek that her life was difficult, Palin abruptly resigned as governor. Determined to reclaim her narrative and settle a few scores along the way, she enlisted the services of the Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who negotiated lucrative book deals for both Clintons as well as George W. Bush. Palin surprised him with a packet of more than 20,000 words that she had already written about her childhood in Alaska. Palin spent the summer of 2009 hunkered down in a Del Mar, Calif., condominium working on her memoir with her communications director, Meghan Stapleton, and a book collaborator named Lynn Vincent. During the day, Palin took her laptop out by the condo complex’s swimming pool and sat there writing in her sun visor and flip-flops, apparently unrecognized by the other residents. And she would stay up writing until 5 in the morning.
A few months later, while touring to promote her book, “Going Rogue,” Palin’s bus pulled into Roanoke, Va., one Sunday in November, the night before an appearance at a bookstore. The author was astonished to see more than 500 people encamped outside the store, many of them in sleeping bags. “Oh, my God, it’s so cold!” Palin exclaimed as she bounded out of the bus to greet her ecstatic fans. “I can’t believe you’re waiting for me!”
But they had waited, and now she had arrived.
His voice dripping with exasperation, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said to me one July afternoon in his office: “If I would have told you that I could open up a Facebook account or a Twitter account, simply post quotes, and have the White House asked about those, and to have the entire White House press corps focused on your quote of the day on Facebook — that’s Sarah Palin. She tweets one thing, and all of a sudden you’ve got a room full of people that want to know. . . .”
Gibbs shook his head and continued: “Now, I could say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to deal with that.’ And big headline: Palin Accuses Obama of X. The White House Had No Comment.”
“I just tweet; that’s just the way I roll,” Palin told me. “Just expressing my feelings via Twitter and Facebook. I choose them because they’re convenient for me, especially from Wasilla.” She continued: “The only thing I do consider is when I think of what’s going on in the East Coast, with the difference in time zones. I can tweet before going to bed at midnight or 1 and know that they’re up and at ’em, and they’re going to have to respond.” In this compressed, no-nuance cyberzone, Palin can land a hard punch without ever setting foot in the ring — calling the then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel “as shallow/narrowminded/political/irresponsible as they come” and saying the Politico writer Jonathan Martin is “full of crap.” In July, Palin’s BlackBerry spewed out a much-publicized volley of tweets calling on peaceful Muslims to “refudiate” the “ground zero mosque” and in the process suckering Obama into taking a position for which he was attacked by all sides. Palin wrote these without consulting anyone, her lawyer Thomas Van Flein told me: “I found out like everyone else did. This is her political instinct in action.”
Van Flein said this as we met for coffee one morning in Anchorage a week before the midterm elections. It’s a curious feature of Palin World that none of its charter members knew her before 2008. (Her two longtime Alaska aides, Kris Perry and Meghan Stapleton, left amicably but wearied by the demands involved with working for an overnight celebrity.) Van Flein met Palin in the summer of 2008, recruited by Todd Palin to give legal advice on the Troopergate controversy. He now divides his time between his Anchorage legal practice and his position as one of Palin’s four lieutenants. The others are Andrew Davis, the political director who resides in Sacramento; Tim Crawford, the group’s elder statesman at 58, whose political experience extends back to Goldwater and who in early 2009 was forced out as the R.N.C.’s interim finance director, by which time John Coale had already recruited him to be the treasurer of SarahPAC; and Palin’s 36-year-old Los Angeles-based cybermessenger, Rebecca Mansour. Palin’s broader circle also includes Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin, who handle her travel logistics from, respectively, New Orleans and Columbus, Ohio; Pam Pryor, who works with Crawford at SarahPAC as the liaison to the evangelical and Christian community; and Randy Scheunemann, a prominent neoconservative and former McCain foreign-policy adviser. Crawford, Pryor, Scheunemann and two occasional speechwriters, Chriss Winston and Lindsay Hayes, all live in or around Washington. Among the D.C. consultants, however, only Crawford interacts with Palin on a regular basis. More than once in our discussions, Van Flein referred to “those people who are of the Beltway and those who aren’t” — a binary worldview to which Palin obviously adheres. (Press reports variously name Fred Malek; Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard; and Kim Daniels, a conservative lawyer, as key advisers, when in fact Daniels has not worked for Palin for several months and Malek and Kristol are seldom in contact with her. “It’s nearly every single day we learn a lesson about a person who claims to speak for us or work for us,” Palin told me. “Seems 9 times out of 10, Todd and I look at each other and say, ‘Who is this speaking for us?’ ”)
Along with Recher, McMarlin, Pryor and Scheunemann, the four lieutenants engage in regular conference calls, sans Palin, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. (There’s no set agenda for these calls nor anyone leading them, and they can get “raucous at times,” Davis says.) Palin herself is never far from the loop, Van Flein told me: “Think of it as a tape recorder that’s on all the time. There’s a constant exchange of information between the governor and her team — who’s on top of this, lots of back and forth — and I think I’m not exaggerating to say it’s 24/7. Sometime she’s up e-mailing at 3 in the morning.”
Van Flein, a boyish-looking 46-year-old employment-law specialist who majored in political science at the University of Alaska, receives a $10,000 monthly retainer from SarahPAC. In return, he dispenses more than just legal advice. Van Flein contributes research to some of Palin’s Facebook posts and speeches and is a staunch political advocate. (“Regardless of whoever else does or doesn’t say it, I’m saying that Obamacare is now in jeopardy of repeal because of her,” Van Flein proclaimed to me.)
But it is Rebecca Mansour who especially personifies the amorphous yet fervid network of Palin World. Mansour said to me with undisguised relish, “I majored in English and history and minored in philosophy, but I’ve never been a Beltway person, so that does confuse people.” A graduate of the American Film Institute, Mansour was writing screenplays in L.A. when, following the 2008 election, her disgust over “what I perceived as unfair treatment” of Palin inspired her to start the blog Conservatives4Palin. Mansour’s knowledge of Palin became so encyclopedic that in the summer of 2009, Meghan Stapleton asked her if she would come to Del Mar to help with Palin’s biography. The blogger had never met her subject before. She showed up with binders full of research, and when she was introduced to Palin, “the first thing she did was hug me — I was like, ‘O.K.,’ ” Mansour said with a laugh. “She is the most ordinary person. She’s shorter than I am.” At the same time, Mansour was impressed with Palin’s nimble mind. “I remember sitting with her while she was working on the book; she would be typing furiously, and I’d ask her, ‘Governor, when was the year you did such and such,’ and she’d say, ‘That was the year we did the budget.’ And then she’d be reading the chyron at the bottom of the TV screen while typing and talking to me. And then would read to me what she just wrote, and it was brilliant.”
For her volunteer work on “Going Rogue,” Mansour would soon be rewarded with both a salary and a weighty portfolio. Mansour is Palin’s primary speechwriter, researcher, online communications coordinator and all-purpose adviser. Because Palin often works 20-hour days, so does Mansour, because “the governor reads, checks and approves everything that’s under her name.” Mansour regularly spars with the media on her private Twitter account for perceived inaccuracies about Palin. At the same time, she acknowledged, “I love it when they underestimate her.”
In truth, few are underestimating Sarah Palin anymore. In that endearing manner of the Beltway echo chamber, the prevailing narrative of Palin in 2009 was that that she was an incompetent ditz. This year’s story line is that she is a social-media visionary who purposefully circumnavigated the power-alley gasbags and thereby constructed a new campaigning template for the ages. The reality is that Palin’s direction is determined almost entirely by her instincts — or, as Fred Malek puts it, “There is no über-strategy.” She did not game out a path forward when agreeing to two book deals with HarperCollins and then signing on with the Washington Speakers Bureau, Fox and then her television series. That same mind-set explains the lack of cohesion to Palin’s virtual organization. As Crawford, Van Flein, Davis and Mansour concur, the inhabitants of Palin World have loosely defined duties and thus invariably play outside their lanes. “It’s kind of like if you reach out and for whatever reason someone’s not responding, then someone else jumps in,” Crawford says — adding of his own job as the PAC’s fund-raising guru, “I never thought it would be a full-time gig.” (One exception to the fuzzy lines of authority: Barnett, her lawyer, handles all of her business dealings but, being a Democrat, participates in none of her policy and political discussions.) There is no chief of staff — though “there’s been discussion,” Van Flein says, “because the logistics are overwhelming and the demand is phenomenal.” Nor, since Stapleton departed in February, does Palin have a press person — with the result that up to eight or nine of her functionaries will find themselves fielding (and usually pocket-vetoing) media requests at any one time. Just as Palin heavily edits or at times completely writes most of her own speeches and insists on reviewing any statement issued by SarahPAC, she also must approve all media contact by her subordinates, Van Flein told me. With epic understatement he added, “Because she may be busy, [an interview request] might languish for a few days.”
Palin’s guerrilla organization can be maddening for those on the outside who are trying to divine a way in. “I’ve never had so many phone calls in my life,” Davis says. “And the hard part is the answer’s not ‘No’; the answer’s ‘I don’t know.’ But it’s a pure process. These decisions are hers.” Though Palin has obviously done quite well for herself without Karl Rove’s strategic seal of approval, the inefficiency of her network has allowed numerous opportunities to slip through the cracks. Several influential Republican legislators reached out to her in late 2008 and early 2009 but never heard back. Among them, Roy Blunt and Orrin Hatch requested that she attend particular functions and were rebuffed. George W. Bush’s former media strategist, Mark McKinnon, offered to chat. The Beltway doyenne Juleanna Glover volunteered a “low-key media luncheon.” The National Review’s editorial board sent word that Palin should swing by for a get-together during one of her trips to New York. Which of these proposed encounters ever came to Palin’s attention is unclear. But for other possible 2012 Republican candidates — say, Senator John Thune of South Dakota or Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota — most of these opportunities would be worth planning an entire day around.
Then again, Palin confessed to me a tendency to avoid longtime political operatives — “these unprincipled people who are in it for power, money and job titles.” Her wariness extends even to her top lieutenants, who have thus far been excluded from her 2012 considerations. Instead, she relies on Todd — “the one person she trusts,” according to Rick Halford, a longtime friend and a former Alaska state senator. “Todd is somebody that I think really grew and took on the job of being her support system, way beyond his education and where he came from.”
There are few spouses in politics as hard-working as 46-year-old Todd Mitchell Palin — a native of Dillingham, Alaska, who married his Wasilla High School sweetheart and dropped out of college and eventually found work in the North Slope oil fields. He handles her travel. He is at times her sole accompaniment to events. He is — with apologies to the mama grizzly — the family’s chief protector, who has been known to nix interview requests from publications that have previously, in his view, made fun of his children. It has fallen to Todd to mollify alienated aides, interview potential speechwriters and help prep his wife for an interview by Googling subject matter on his BlackBerry. Referring to the ongoing communications in Palin World, Thomas Van Flein told me, “Todd is always part of the information chain.” In the external world it is widely understood that when sending Sarah Palin an e-mail “the best idea is to copy Todd on it,” according to Malek.
As one adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign told me: “It occurred to me on Day 1 that Todd was a very key adviser to her. I quite aggressively developed a relationship with Todd.” Stephen Broden, a Congressional candidate from Dallas, told me that his endorsement by Palin this summer arose after a perfunctory meet-and-greet with the couple. “I pulled Todd aside as the entourage was pulling her away,” Broden recalled, “and I said, ‘Hey, look, man, it’s gonna be hard to get ahold of her.’ And he gave me his number. I talked to him.”
Broden, a conservative African-American pastor and a three-time guest on Glenn Beck’s TV show, was running a quixotic campaign against the nine-term Dallas congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. Palin became highly enamored of Broden, endorsed him and kept a close eye on the race all the way through election night. (Johnson won, 76 percent to 22.) Nearly all of her 90 or so endorsed candidates were selected in a manner that was vintage Sarah Palin. As her staff members explained it to me, all potential endorsees were vetted by Andrew Davis to ascertain whether they met certain base-line standards (like being anti-abortion, pro-A.N.W.R. drilling and anti-stimulus). Palin, however, would always make the final call, often after doing research herself, as in the case of Broden. As a result, some endorsements took months to be consummated. Besieged by requests to appear with candidates, Palin could accommodate only a few of them. Much of her summer was consumed by her television filming schedule in Alaska, and her contract with the Washington Speakers Bureau forbade her to do any free event at a locale where another paid event was scheduled. Her frenetic schedule meant that Palin could commit only to making an in-person appearance at the 11th hour — which, given the large crowds she tended to attract, would often prove impossible for a small campaign staff to throw together. “She loves the retail stuff — make some phone calls, go to a small event and shake hands,” Davis told me. “Retail is very difficult at this point.”
Idiosyncratic as her in-house endorsement operation may have been, Palin was not above wielding her influence in the manner of a seasoned politician. She rewarded allies (McCain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina), punished a foe (Lisa Murkowski) by endorsing Joe Miller and gave the nod to a family friend (Vaughan Ward of Idaho). And in the early presidential-primary states, some of Palin’s choices seemed conspicuously strategic. In June, for example, she endorsed Terry Branstad for governor of Iowa, who at that point had never met Palin, had not sought her imprimatur and didn’t particularly need it, being 15 points ahead of his primary opponent, Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats was far more conservative than Branstad but also an ally of the likely 2012 candidate Mike Huckabee. In the New Hampshire Senate race, Palin threw her support behind the establishment candidate Kelly Ayotte rather than a Tea Party favorite who tried to endear himself to Palin by sending her a photograph of himself alongside the carcass of a deer he had just shot. When I asked Andy Smith, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center’s director and pollster, to explain why Palin had chosen Ayotte, he promptly answered: “I think she wanted to back a winner. Like Branstad in Iowa. I think she wanted people who would be in positions to help her out.”
These actions bespeak a calculating shrewdness on Palin’s part. But then what to make of her inactions? Three months after endorsing Branstad, Palin visited Iowa for the first time since 2008 to deliver a speech but then left without scheduling any other events. And since 2008, Palin has yet to travel to New Hampshire, having turned down a triumphalist Tea Party Express rally in Concord the evening before Election Day. In both cases, her aides told me, Palin was overscheduled. But since Sarah Palin is the keeper of her own itinerary, we are left to wonder whether these omissions suggest disorganization, lack of foresight, ambivalence, distrust of politicos or some combination of the above.
One evening in late October, I sat in the Anchorage apartment of Palin’s onetime communications director Bill McAllister, watching old TV footage of his ex-boss during her campaign for governor in 2006. McAllister, a former reporter with the Anchorage NBC affiliate who worked for Palin in 2008 and 2009, wanted me to see with my own eyes the Sarah Palin he knew — bright and easygoing, exceedingly popular with the local press — before the national media had grossly mischaracterized her in a way he found “frustrating and maddening.”
The Palin I watched on McAllister’s DVD lived up to his billing. She cut a competent, reasoned, disciplined figure, not taking the bait when one of her opponents dismissed her during a debate as “a bright smile.” There was another characteristic that McAllister hadn’t pointed out. In the footage, Palin declared, “We deserve leaders that aren’t just going to take a partisan approach.” Bemoaning the “gridlock down there in Juneau,” Palin reminded Alaskans, “I have good relationships with these legislators.” An undisputed social conservative who backed a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Palin nonetheless told an interviewer, “I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve.” And she promised not to let her religious beliefs “bleed into policy — that is my commitment.”
This Sarah Palin began to recede from view in 2008 as she was thrust into the traditional running mate’s role of partisan flamethrower. Nonetheless, while editing a speech she was about to give, the vice-presidential candidate crossed out a disparaging reference to liberals, telling an aide, “We want liberals to vote for us, too.”
I brought up her past efforts at bipartisanship to Palin. “I was so innocent and naïve to believe that I would be able to govern for four years and if I ever moved on beyond the governorship I could carry that with me nationally,” Palin said. “And it was proven when John McCain chose me for the nomination for vice president; what it showed me about the left: they go home. It doesn’t matter what you do. It was the left that came out attacking me. They showed me their hypocrisy; they showed me they weren’t willing to work in a bipartisan way. I learned my lesson. Once bitten, twice shy. I will never trust that they are not hypocrites until they show me they’re sincere.”
Since that time, Palin has gravitated to where the love is. On April 7 of this year, she spoke at a campaign rally in Minneapolis for Michele Bachmann. With a silver cross around her neck and a flag pin on her lapel, Palin spoke approvingly of those who are “proudly clinging to your guns and religion.” Condemning the recently passed health care legislation as “socialized medicine” that “breaks the bank and really violates the U.S. Constitution,” she applauded her party’s stout opposition, declaring, “What’s wrong with being the party of ‘No’?”
The cheering section directly behind Palin was packed with white conservative middle-aged women, a demographic that especially reveres her. Palin’s relationship to women generally is more complicated. On the one hand, her appreciation of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton is unambiguous. On the other, she tends to poll five or more points better among men, and feminists are loath to embrace her.
Palin is of course aware that her sex affords her an opportunity among a crowded, all-male Republican field for 2012. Her Minneapolis rally provided much of the content for her acclaimed “mama grizzly” call-to-arms Web ad released in June. In August, Palin posted a Facebook endorsement of seven women to coincide with the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Though several of her male endorsees also wound up defeating women, Palin has nonetheless emerged from the midterm cycle as America’s most visible advocate of female candidates not named Murkowski.
Whether Palin has what it takes to close the Republican Party’s longstanding gender gap is a question that has loomed since John McCain introduced her to the nation on Aug. 29, 2008. That same afternoon, McCain reached out to Geraldine Ferraro — the first female vice-presidential candidate and a Hillary Clinton supporter — and put her on the phone with his new running mate. The two traded brief, complimentary words. “Every time a woman runs, women win,” Ferraro told me a couple of days after Palin debated Joe Biden.
She felt reluctant to second-guess Palin’s performance against Biden. As Walter Mondale’s running mate, the three-term New York congresswoman possessed more experience with national issues than the Alaska governor — and because of the differing schedules, she was afforded nearly eight weeks more prep time than Palin received. It also helped, Ferraro pointed out, that the Mondale campaign paired her with a young Georgetown professor named Madeleine Albright, who “was attached to my hip from July 12 to the election.” Nevertheless, Ferraro concluded in a lamenting tone, “when you get down to the substance, it wasn’t there.”
“Look, everyone has an opinion about Sarah Palin,” her friend John Coale says. “But suppose when she starts doing the debates during the primaries, she knocks it out of the park. That would cause an entirely different view of things, wouldn’t it?”
Palin has taken steps to close the substance gap. As Davis put it to me, “She works very hard to get things right, because she understands the margin for error — and because it’s the right thing to do.” In Hong Kong 14 months ago, Palin delivered a dense world-affairs speech that she co-drafted with Randy Scheunemann and Rebecca Mansour. This past June in Norfolk, Va., Palin ripped Obama’s “enemy-centric” foreign policy in a spicy but detailed address. (In that speech and elsewhere, she has cited the wisdom of Joe Lieberman — though not on the matter of human-induced climate change, a concept she derides as a “snow job” and this “global warming Goregate stuff.” Lieberman told me, “Well of course I disagree with her and have been disappointed by it.” Lieberman also said: “My impression is that she and Todd are the kind of people I’d like to have as my next-door neighbors. That’s a separate question from whether she’s capable of being president.”) Earlier this month, Palin gave a speech on monetary policy, criticizing the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, which, according to Mansour, was written entirely by Palin and herself. Every morning, Palin reads a briefing consisting of a few bullet points prepared by Davis and Mansour. (“I wouldn’t make too much of it,” Davis cautioned me. “It’s like [Politico’s] Playbook, only without the birthdays. Sometimes I throw in a sports score.”) Her public remarks and Facebook posts have been increasingly littered with facts from biographies of Reagan, Thatcher and Lincoln that she has recently digested.
Palin became testy when I asked her about the books I heard she had been reading. “I’ve been reading since I was a little girl,” she snapped. “And my mom is standing 15 feet away from me, and I should put her on the phone with you right now so she can tell you. That’s what happens when you grow up in a house full of teachers — you read; and I always have. Just because — and,” she continued, though in a less blistering tone, “I don’t want to come across sounding caustic or annoyed by this issue: because of one roll-of-the-eye answer to a question I gave, I’m still dealing with this,” she said, referring to her interview with Katie Couric. “There’s nothing different today than there was in the last 43 years of my life since I first started reading. I continue to read all that I can get my hands on — and reading biographies of, yes, Thatcher for instance, and of course Reagan and the John Adams letters, and I’m just thinking of a couple that are on my bedside, I go back to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, there’s such a variety, because books have always been important in my life.” She went on: “I’m reading [the conservative radio host] Mark Levin’s book; I’ll get ahold of Glenn Beck’s new book — and now because I’m opening up,” she finished warily, “I’m afraid I’m going to get reporters saying, Oh, she only reads books by Glenn Beck.”
I explained to Palin that in my view, at least, this line of inquiry wasn’t gratuitous — that questions did in fact linger about her “gravitas gap.” Didn’t she think, for example, that the Republican kingmakers who were now supposedly scheming to kneecap her were mainly just concerned about how voters viewed her? “If that were the case, then they need to be courageous enough to put their names behind their criticisms,” she said, referring to anonymous quotations attacking her. “As I replied to Politico, these fellows want to be trusted to tend to our nation’s economic woes? They want to be trusted to take on the likes of Ahmadinejad, but they won’t take on a hockey mom from Wasilla? Until they do that, I dismiss them.”
But, I reiterated, didn’t she believe that the Republican establishment’s predominant worry was that she would lose to Obama? “Then perhaps they should vent some of their paranoia toward all of the potential G.O.P. candidates,” she said. “Because obviously there’s no guarantee that any one of us would win. But I do believe that much of this is a threat to their hierarchy, because I’ve never shied away from a battle and because I’ll put principle before politics.”
In a sense, Palin views Beltway Republicans as she does the Obama administration: aloof, self-interested and vulnerable to the populist power that she believes she wields. “They’re in an isolated bubble — Barack Obama mentioned that in his press conference, and I agree with him, he is isolated from what average Americans are talking about,” she said, referring to the president’s words after the midterm elections. “But what he was meaning, of course, was that he’s not in touch with average Americans. I am — because that’s who I am. That’s who surrounds me, common-sense Americans who just want government on their side, not riding their backs. And I tweet to reach out to them.”
At the end of our talk, she made note of my Southern accent and urged me, “Don’t lose that.” Then she went back to her world, somewhere in Alaska, where she was winding down the filming of her TV show — where apparently Internet reception was sufficient for her to send out three more Twitter posts that afternoon, joining herself to the rest of America and then leaving it at that, for the moment.
Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine and the author of “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush.”