Commentary: Man who put Palin in spotlight becomes her punching bag

Going Rogue: An American Life," by Sarah Palin is due out November 17, 2009.
Going Rogue: An American Life," by Sarah Palin is due out November 17, 2009. MCT

The man credited with giving Sarah Palin a national platform is lying low in Sacramento as Palin snipes at him from Oprah Winfrey's couch.

Steve Schmidt is a Sacramento-based political operative who was the top strategist in Sen. John McCain's failed presidential bid last year — a campaign best known for tapping Palin as McCain's improbable running mate. Now he's Palin's punching bag.

The former Alaska governor is biting the hand that plucked her from relative obscurity in the celebrated memoir "Going Rogue: An American Life."

"Some of (Palin's) loudest complaints … are directed at (Schmidt)," wrote the New York Times. "Ironically enough, (Schmidt) was one of the aides to most forcefully make the case for putting (Palin) on the ticket in the first place."

Herein lies the paradox silencing a bold molder of messages for former President George W. Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and two Supreme Court justices.

If Schmidt trashes Palin, he opens himself up to a vexing question: Why did you pick Palin to be a potential heartbeat away from the Oval Office?

Thirty-nine years old and a GOP star himself, Schmidt wouldn't touch the issue Tuesday. "I'm not prepared to discuss that today, no sir," he said by phone.

Meanwhile, from Oprah to Barbara Walters to wall-to-wall cable news coverage, Palin was everywhere in support of her $28.99 tell-all. In it, Schmidt is portrayed as a big meanie, Palin the uplifting heroine of her own story.

Palin describes tuning Schmidt out as he scolded her for adhering to a high-protein diet, a claim she denies. "Sir, I really don't know you yet. But you've told me how to dress, what to say, who to talk to, a lot of people not to talk to, who my heroes are supposed to be, and we're still losing. Now you're going to tell me what to eat?"

Palin never actually said this. She was thinking it as Schmidt yelled at her, according to her book.

"It's fantasy, fiction," Schmidt said. "Every conversation that is related by her in this book is false."

He declined to elaborate out of respect for McCain.

It's an odd spot for a serious man who rose from being a campaign gofer in his native New Jersey to helping get Bush re-elected, advising former Vice President Dick Cheney and helping Schwarzenegger salvage his political career.

Two of the last three Supreme Court justices – including Chief Justice John Roberts – were shepherded through bruising confirmations by Schmidt.

Six feet tall, bald and built like a Greco-Roman wrestler, Schmidt is a heavyweight by stature and reputation. Now the kingmaker is getting whacked by the "hockey mom."

Today's headlines will fade – his Mercury Public Affairs office in Sacramento is thriving – but one wonders if Palin might haunt Schmidt forever.

Related stories from McClatchy DC