Sarah Palin's political team isn't well-known among Beltway types. She has famously pushed away the usual strategists and D.C. power-players, relying instead on a small team of low-profile individuals who, for the most part, share her vehement hatred for the "lamestream" media and Washington insiders. Her inner circle, which includes husband Todd Palin, political director Andrew Davis, "elder statesman" Tim Crawford and cybermessenger Rebecca Mansour, are an unconventional bunch, according to Robert Draper's New York Times Magazine profile:
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.
Draper's portrait of Mansour perfectly illustrates this personal devotion to Palin. The former screenwriter first appeared on Palin's radar when she launched a blog, Conservatives4Palin, after what she "perceived as unfair treatment" of Palin after the 2008 election.
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."
Like her role model, Mansour is a frequent Tweeter, and "regularly spars with the media on her private Twitter account" when she thinks Palin is portrayed inaccurately.
Palin uses Twitter as a soapbox, and as a tool to bring her closer to "common-sense" Americans. She reflects on her ability to stay connected to her constituents:
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."
Palin's relationship with the public seems straightforward and succinct, often summed up in 140 characters. More revealing, and perhaps more complex, is this line, about the history of the relationships she has with her teammates:
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.)
Todd Palin is the only one still in the circle who knew her before 2008.
To trace Palin's beginnings, Draper spoke to Palin's onetime communications director Bill McAllister. He showed him footage of Palin running for governor in 2006. It was a time of innocence -- before she coined "Mama Grizzlies" and "refudiate," called herself a maverick, and starred in her own reality television show.
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."