ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) — With 8 days until Election Day, long-brewing tensions between GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and key aides to Sen. John McCain have become so intense, they are spilling out in public, sources say.
Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue.”
A Palin associate, however, said the candidate is simply trying to “bust free” of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out.
McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls — recorded messages often used to attack a candidate’s opponent — “irritating” even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan.
A second McCain source says she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.
“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said this McCain adviser. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.
“Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”
A Palin associate defended her, saying that she is “not good at process questions” and that her comments on Michigan and the robocalls were answers to process questions.
But this Palin source acknowledged that Palin is trying to take more control of her message, pointing to last week’s impromptu news conference on a Colorado tarmac.
Tracey Schmitt, Palin’s press secretary, was urgently called over after Palin wandered over to the press and started talking. Schmitt tried several times to end the unscheduled session.
“We acknowledge that perhaps she should have been out there doing more,” a different Palin adviser recently said, arguing that “it’s not fair to judge her off one or two sound bites” from the network interviews.
The Politico reported Saturday on Palin’s frustration, specifically with McCain advisers Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt. They helped decide to limit Palin’s initial press contact to high-profile interviews with Charlie Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS, which all McCain sources admit were highly damaging.
In response, Wallace e-mailed CNN the same quote she gave the Politico: “If people want to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most honorable thing to do is to lie there.”
But two sources, one Palin associate and one McCain adviser, defended the decision to keep her press interaction limited after she was picked, both saying flatly that she was not ready and that the missteps could have been a lot worse.
They insisted that she needed time to be briefed on national and international issues and on McCain’s record.
“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”
Schmitt came to the back of the plane Saturday to deliver a statement to traveling reporters: “Unnamed sources with their own agenda will say what they want, but from Gov. Palin down, we have one agenda, and that’s to win on Election Day.”
Yet another senior McCain adviser lamented the public recriminations.
“This is what happens with a campaign that’s behind; it brings out the worst in people, finger-pointing and scapegoating,” this senior adviser said.
This adviser also decried the double standard, noting that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama‘s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, has gone off the reservation as well, most recently by telling donors at a fundraiser that America’s enemies will try to “test” Obama.
Tensions like those within the McCain-Palin campaign are not unusual; vice presidential candidates also have a history of butting heads with the top of the ticket.
John Edwards and his inner circle repeatedly questioned Sen. John Kerry’s strategy in 2004, and Kerry loyalists repeatedly aired in public their view that Edwards would not play the traditional attack dog role with relish because he wanted to protect his future political interests.
Even in a winning campaign like Bill Clinton’s, some of Al Gore’s aides in 1992 and again in 1996 questioned how Gore was being scheduled for campaign events.
Jack Kemp’s aides distrusted the Bob Dole camp and vice versa, and Dan Quayle loyalists had a list of gripes remarkably similar to those now being aired by Gov. Palin’s aides.
With the presidential race in its final days and polls suggesting that McCain’s chances of pulling out a win are growing slim, Palin may be looking after her own future.
“She’s no longer playing for 2008; she’s playing 2012,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart said. “And the difficulty is, when she went on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ she became a reinforcement of her caricature. She never allowed herself to be vetted, and at the end of the day, voters turned against her both in terms of qualifications and personally.”