Steve Schmidt, senior advisor to the John McCain presidential campaign in 2008, was among the first to crusade for Sarah Palin's vice presidential nomination. Today, Schmidt is a vocal critic of Palin; perhaps not incidentally, his career is on the upswing.
The New York Times interviewed Schmidt on June 8 at his Lake Tahoe, Calif., home, where he admitted that he still feels "terrible" about championing Palin as a risky, but potentially election-winning, vice presidential candidate. "If I knew two days before what I knew two days later, I would have handcuffed myself to the truck to prevent [McCain] from leaving the compound," to announce Palin's nomination, Schmidt told the New York Times.
Unlike other McCain advisors who have disappeared from the public eye, Schmidt's post-2008 election profile is bigger than ever. These days, Schmidt works as a television commentator, with frequent appearances on MSNBC; they've even installed a remote camera in his Lake Tahoe home. He also works as a public relations executive, and he is frequently quoted in national newspapers. He has become friends with Woody Harrelson, who played Schmidt in HBO's documentary "Game Change", a movie that focused on the '08 Republican campaign and that starred Julianne Moore as Palin. Schmidt even accompanied Harrelson to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in April.
"We went everywhere together," Mr. Harrelson told the New York Times. "We would be at a party, and people would say to me, 'You know the guy you played is over there.' And I was like 'Yeah, I know. I came with him.' At this point, I feel quite fond of him."
Schmidt isn't so popular in some Republican circles, however. John P. Coale, a friend and advisor of the half-term Alaska governor, says that Schmidt's criticism of Palin is for personal benefit. "The game was to ingratiate himself with the establishment. And what better way to do it than to tear down Sarah Palin?" Coale told the New York Times. He also called Schmidt "disloyal," something of a scarlet letter in the world of politics.
Rick Davis, campaign manager on the McCain presidential ticket, had only one thing to say about Schmidt: "My mother always taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all," Mr. Davis wrote in an email to the New York Times.
Still, even in light of the criticism he's received from some circles, Schmidt is not backing down from his criticism. He says that he has not spoken to Palin since the night McCain conceded the election. On a possible Palin 2012 presidential ticket, he states: "She absolutely should not be president: no way, no how," he said. "I've watched her on the public stage over the past four years. There has been zero effort -- zero -- to improve any her obvious deficiencies."
Palin is aware of Schmidt's criticisms, but isn't taking them to heart. In 2010, upon hearing Schmidt's declaration that Palin as president would be "catastrophic," Palin told Barbara Walters: "Sounds like Steve Schmidt. Um, I guess I really, really disappointed him … everyone is entitled to their opinion though. I know truth, and I'm fine with who I am and where I am."