Rare is it that a political operative owns up to mistakes. But Steve Schmidt did just that a few hours ago on “Morning Joe.” The chief strategist for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign is a plain-spoken and direct man. And he was ever thus when asked for his thoughts on HBO’s movie “Game Change.”

Schmidt’s blunt and unblinking honesty in talking about the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential nominee and his role in that decision is to be commended. Others who would follow in his footsteps must learn from the mistakes he willingly admits he made.  


“It’s a story of when cynicism and idealism collide, when you have to do the things that are necessary to win to try to get in office to do the great things you want to do for the country,” Schmidt said. “And I think it showed a process of vetting that was debilitated by secrecy, that was compartmentalized, that failed, that led to a result that was reckless for the country. And I think when you look back at that race, you see this person who is just so phenomenally talented at so many levels, an ability to connect. But also someone who had a lot of flaws as someone running to be in the national command authority who clearly wasn’t prepared.”

Positive and negative

“Politically, she was a net positive to the campaign,” Schmidt said of the former Alaska governor. But she was a “net negative” because “someone was nominated to the vice presidency who was manifestly unprepared to take the oath of office should it become necessary and as it has become necessary many times in American history.”

Lesson learned

“For me and the experience I had on this campaign is that there are worse things than losing,” Schmidt said. When he was asked to spell that out, he said, “When a result happens that puts someone who’s not prepared to be president on the ticket, that’s a bad result. I think the notion of Sarah Palin being president of the United States is something that frightens me, frankly. And I played a part in that. And I played a part in that because we were fueled by ambition to win.

“I think there are important lessons to learn. The reality is is that both parties have nominated people in the last decade who are not prepared to be anywhere near the Oval Office. John Edwards in the Democratic Party. Sarah Palin in the Republican Party. And we ought to take a pause and understand how that happened, why it happened and hopefully it’ll never happen again in our lifetimes.”

“I hope not”

Andrea Mitchell asked Schmidt whether he thought Palin had a future as a national leader in the GOP. He was unsparing.  

“I hope not,” he said. “And the reason I say that is because if you look at, over the last four years, all of the deficiencies in knowledge, all the deficiencies in preparedness, she’s done not one thing to rectify them, to correct them. She has become a person who I think is filled with grievance, filled with anger who has a divisive message for the national stage when we need leaders in both parties to have a unifying message. . . . The lack of preparedness was a bad thing and the total disinterest in being more prepared and rectifying that is something that disqualifies.”

And with that, Schmidt articulated better than I ever could — and with great authority — why Palin is a destructive presence on the national political stage.