Is John McCain exaggerating his past relationship with Sarah Palin?
On Wednesday, NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed McCain, and he started the session with questions about McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin. Noting that Palin had repeatedly pointed to Alaska’s proximity to Russia, Inskeep asked what that adds to her foreign policy qualifications. McCain referred to “the fact that they have had certain relationships.” Presumably, by “they” he meant Alaska and Russia, but he did not specify what these “relationships” entailed. And Inskeep did not ask him to. (In her interview with Katie Couric, Palin referred to trade missions between her state and Russia–activity which apparently did not involve her.) McCain then changed the subject and maintained that Palin has great expertise on energy issues, inelegantly remarking, “She has oversighted the natural gas and oil and natural resources of the state of Alaska.”
Then came a dramatic statement. Inskeep asked, “Is there an occasion when you can imagine turning to Gov. Palin for advice on a foreign policy crisis.” McCain replied,
I’ve turned to her advice many times in the past.
Many times in the past? According to the McCain campaign, McCain first met Palin in February at a Washington meeting of the National Governors Association. Here’s how McCain’s own campaign on August 29 described the interactions between the two:
John McCain first met Governor Sarah Palin at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington in February of 2008 and came away extraordinarily impressed. John McCain followed her career and admired her tenacity and her many accomplishments. She was scheduled for a high profile speaking role at our convention and included in the VP selection process because of his admiration for her strong reform credentials. Last Sunday, Governor Palin and John McCain had a conversation over the phone. Governor Palin was at the Alaska State Fair, and John McCain was at his home at Phoenix. Previously, Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, had also been in regular contact with the Governor as part of the on-going selection process. This past week, Governor Palin arrived with Kris Perry in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Wednesday evening. Upon arrival, Governor Palin and her longtime aide Kris Perry met with Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter of the McCain campaign at Mr. Bob Delgado’s home in Flagstaff. Mr. Delgado is the CEO of the Hensley corporation, which is Mrs. Cindy McCain’s family business. On Thursday morning, Governor Palin and staff were joined by Mrs. Cindy McCain and later joined by John McCain at the McCain family home in Sedona, Arizona. At approximately 11:00 a.m. Thursday August 28, 2008, John McCain formally invited Governor Sarah Palin to join the Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee on the deck of the McCain family home.
The statement seems to indicate that McCain and Palin only had three interactions before McCain offered her a spot on the ticket. And there’s nothing in the statement referring to McCain consulting Palin about anything–including foreign policy crises. (McCain, according to the statement, was merely admiring her career from afar.) The most recent major foreign policy crisis–the fighting between Russia and Georgia–occurred before McCain asked her to be the GOP’s vice presidential nominee.
So when could have McCain turned to Palin “many times in the past” for advice on a foreign policy crisis? Or anything else?
McCain was spinning. Inskeep might have asked him for one concrete example of advice-seeking on foreign policy in the past. But he did not. McCain did note that he has “already turned to” Palin “particularly on energy issues.” (Has he consulted with her on the financial crisis?) But, by his own campaign’s account, he does not have the history with Palin that would have allowed him to ask her “many times in the past” for advice on an overseas crisis or any other matter.
During the interview, McCain claimed that FactCheck.org had been wrong to brand a McCain ad claiming Obama backed a bill to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners “a factual failure.” He said listeners could go to his website and find proof the charge was accurate. (But putting “Obama sex education” into the search engine on McCain’s campaign site produces a link to a page showing the ad, with no back-up material.)
McCain also claimed that Palin is “the most popular governor in America.” Not anymore. The latest poll shows her dropping from an approval rate in her home state in the low 80 percent range to 68 percent. That’s still a high number, but there are at least two other governors with approval ratings now in the low 80s.
But back to the main point of the NPR interview: McCain’s assertion that he has relied on Palin “many times in the past.” I have sent an email to the McCain campaign asking if it can provide any examples. I don’t expect a reply. But the next journalist who gets to spend time with McCain ought to ask him–pointedly–about this claim.