Saturday, July 04, 2009

That Mark McKinnon Helped Palin

To me, one of the most surprising revelations of Todd Purdum's It Came From Wasilla was the role Mark McKinnon played in preparing Palin for the Vice Presidential debate last fall.
By this point, Palin’s relations with Nicolle Wallace—a veteran of the Bush White House and a former CBS News analyst who had tried to help Palin get ready for the Couric interview, and whom Palin blamed for the result—were so strained that campaign aides cast about for someone who could serve as a calming presence: Palin’s horse whisperer. They settled on Mark McKinnon, a smart, funny, soft-spoken former Democrat from Texas. McKinnon had long admired McCain, and had begun the Republican primary season helping him out—though warning that he would never work against Obama in the general election. But now McKinnon, whose role in helping prepare Palin has not been previously reported, and who declined to elaborate on it to V.F., changed his mind and quietly signed on.
Well, I'd admired him, for his anti-Rove posture. Turned out to be false.

McKinnonwrites now for The Daily Beast and shared more information about his role, how he rationalized it (having said he'd do nothing to attack Obama), and what he knows about How Her Mind Works. First his rationalization (and a peak of how desperate they were)
I spent a total of three hours of the entire campaign with Palin. A week before her debate, I got a call out of the blue asking if I could spend the next week helping run Palin’s debate preparation. There was clearly an emergency at hand. But, cognizant of my pledge not to campaign against Obama because I didn’t want to be the tip of the spear attacking him, which led to my departure from the campaign in June, I was worried that this exercise would inevitably drag me into uncomfortable territory. So, I said no. My friends, clearly in a desperate situation pleaded with me to reconsider. I didn’t want to totally let them down, so I compromised in a way that satisfied my own conscience. I agreed to spend one initial session, about three hours, with Palin talking about basic debate techniques and fundamentals. But, made clear that I would not participate in any discussions about strategies to attack Obama.
This take gives me no comfort:
She is one of the most fascinating women I have ever met. She crackles with energy like a live electrical wire and on first meeting gets about three inches from your face. Her instant subliminal message is: “I don’t know you very well, but I’m very clear about who I am.” She reeks of moxie and self confidence. And she’s fearless.

Well, she was mostly fearless when I intersected with her. But, she was also a week out from a nationally televised debate with Joe Biden, and she knew she was in trouble. She knew she wasn’t prepared. And she knew it would be difficult, maybe impossible to be ready. And the brief session I witnessed, verified as much and I was convinced the debate would be a disaster. But, despite the crushingly stressful situation in which she found herself, and despite the aching vulnerability, she squared up in her uniquely Palin way and made it clear to all of us in the room that she was going to bear down, get ready, and was not, under any circumstances, going to let John McCain down. But, I frankly thought she would.

But damned if she didn’t. I watched the debate on television from Austin and was stunned. The difference in the person I’d seen just five days earlier and the woman I saw step onto the stage with Joe Biden was a complete transformation. Granted, expectations were low, but she cleared ‘em.

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