The Former Palin Insider Who Thinks She Can't Win

John Ziegler had a bad breakup with the Palin operation

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Conservative talk show host-turned Sarah Palin documentarian John Ziegler--who has defended her against all manner of mini-controversies, including nearly getting arrested protesting a David Letterman joke--says that Palin has zero chance of winning the presidency in 2012. Palin has granted an interview for only one documentary: Ziegler's Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted. But that movie didn't grant Ziegler the full access to the governor that it appears he expected. Over the course of their three-year relationship, "we would often act like friends--while at other times she would act like she barely knew me," he details in a tell-all at The Daily Caller. And despite his admiration for her, Ziegler says that not only will Palin lose in 2012, but what she's doing "is almost certainly destructive to her cause and her country."

It goes without saying that Ziegler's relationship with Palin was strictly professional. But it's hard not to wonder if Zeigler's essay would have a different tone if he were writing about a dude. For example, Ziegler describes when, in 2009, he flew to Alaska and for the first time he laid eyes on Palin in person: "Then Sarah walks in to welcome us, like she’s late for a date--boots, jacket, black skirt, no make-up yet. She’s a beautiful woman, but frankly, I almost didn’t recognize her. Maybe it was the nerves." Palin's husband Todd is described as "a man of very few words, but a good guy, even though he looks like he could kick your ass." Why do we have Todd's brawling skills on the brain, hm?

Slight crushy overtones aside, Zeigler provides some interesting insights into how Palin World operates. Ziegler describes his efforts to shame Letterman into apologizing for a joke about Willow Palin:

That was the beginning of my time as Sarah’s unofficial human flak-jacket. ... I flew to New York from LA on a whim to organize a ‘Fire David Letterman’ rally for his cheap joke about Willow... Letterman offered a series of classic ‘non-apology apologies’ on his show. Without giving me a heads up, Sarah finally accepted one of them...

I vented my frustration with Sarah and Meg [Stapleton, Palin's then-spokeswoman] but remained loyal to the cause, even though I felt like I’d been taken for granted. After all, by this point I’d become virtually her shadow press secretary (at least according to MSNBC) while she was essentially sequestered from the national media in Alaska. But I was also starting to get a weird feeling that something wasn’t right, especially after my trip to Anchorage for the Media Malpractice screening. Under relentless abuse from the media and frivolous lawsuits, Sarah was sealing herself off from the outside world, with only Todd and a couple of others close enough to her to have any influence.

A bunker mentally seemed to be setting in.

Ziegler also says that Palin can't take criticism, which he tried to offer Palin during his 2009 visit:

Before I left, I felt I had to give the governor at least one piece of advice. After all, I know how politicians work. They surround themselves with yes-people. No one dares speak up. I figured I’d never get another opportunity like this again, so, with the very best of intentions, I told her: “You have to know, you can’t beat Obama in 2012. The media won’t let you. They won’t let him lose and the narrative about you is too negative to correct in three-and-a-half years.”

She said nothing. No-one else spoke, either. I looked around at my crew, and the same thing was written on everyone’s face: “What the hell are you doing, Ziegler?” It was the first of several times where it would be obvious to me that Sarah Palin does not like hearing bad news.

Amusing detail: When Palin resigned as governor of Alaska over the July Fourth weekend in 2009, even dedicated aide Rebecca Mansour was surprised. After Palin's speech announcing her decision, Palin emailed Ziegler: "Shit, it's over."

On Palin's infamously poor time management skills, on display when she promised to go be the headline speaker at Simi Valley Republican Women’s 50th anniversary gala at the Ronald Reagan Library in California:

The Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, stepfather of the Kardashian girls, bought two tables. So did a number of other big-wigs. ... [W]hen I checked-in with Meg and Rebecca, the alarms in my head started going off. “It’s on the schedule,” Rebecca told me. Meanwhile, Meg seemed to be implying that they couldn’t give the final confirmation until Palin was no longer officially governor. As the date got closer I got more and more concerned and even predicted on my radio show that I didn’t think it was a sure thing Palin would be there.

Then I got an e-mail from Sarah herself, asking, “Can you tell me about this Reagan Library event?” Given my past experiences with her, I thought, “Uh-oh.”

She didn’t show up. Or rather, she canceled with impossibly short notice. It got worse: her office put out one of it’s by now familiar statements, essentially blaming the Simi Valley women for what happened. They were left fuming, and wanted to go to the press, so it was up to me to extinguish the brush fire before it evolved into yet another excuse for the Palin-hating news networks to once again pile on.

Palin can't win for three reasons, Ziegler says. First, he says, most people have made up their mind about how they feel about her--giving her a disapproval rating above 50 percent. Second, the size of Palin's grassroots fan club within the Republican Party is "largely overstated." Third is this novel bit of analysis:

Then there is the issue of how she greatly (thanks largely to being an attractive and successful mother of five who is still in love with her husband who makes women like Joy Behar feel bad about themselves) exacerbates the gender gap, which is the Republican Achilles heel in presidential races.

And fourth, a lot of Republicans have sad bad things about her on the record, and only more would do so during the 2012 campaign, in order to "ingratiate themselves with the media."

Finally, there's this tidbit, revealing at the very least that Palin, like so many of us, has make the dreaded Hitting-Reply-Instead-of-Forward mistake:

She forwarded my message to her team, apparently forgetting to delete my address, with the comment, “If I have to suffer thru Ziegler’s e-mails, we ALL have to suffer thru.” Wow, that was a punch in the gut. Less than four minutes later, a panicked follow-up pinged into my Blackberry’s inbox: “John—pls [sic] know that was a joke!  . . . you’re [sic] advice is very good, we have announced I will not be financially gaining from the speech, we need to get that word out there.” In other words, she’d acted on the message, but also made sure to take a pot shot at the messenger of bad news.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.