Here’s how it goes… John McCain is in a Colorado Springs hotel room, watching the VP debate with a stiff gin & tonic, surrounded by campaign manager Rick Davis, Cindy, and Lindsay Graham. It’s been a long day for John and his travelling coterie. It started in Kansas City, followed by Cincinnati, Denver, and now here, to the home of NORAD and the largest used car dealership west of the Mississippi. John is agitated and clearly on edge. It has not been a good two weeks for him and now he has to sit here in the Marriott and watch Sarah go live on national television, to an audience of 100 million panicked Americans, mono-a-mono against Joe Biden, a man who has made a career in the Senate by outwitting and outflanking opponents with much more robust IQs than Sarah’s. Biden is a trained shark, one who has made an entire career out of sneaking up behind political enemies and shanking them in the jugular. He is merciless, and he is in his element. John knows this well, and the room is on edge.
“Well John, I think she’s going to hold her own tonight, I’m optimistic,” says Cindy while she pokes lazily at a chicken cesar salad.
“”We’ll see,” John grunts back from the sofa, slowly twirling the glass tumbler in his hand and pensively watching the ice go round. He’s counting on this. He needs a momentum change.
Rick Davis has been looking very waxy of late. He is leaning against the far wall, away from the TV, and has the look of a scared teenager getting dropped off a boarding school for the first time. He’s the one who was responsible for assembling Palin’s prep team, for drilling talking points in her head. “Well, she’s got the talking points down. Hell, W beat Ann Richards in a debate once, all she’s gotta do is hold her own.”
Quickly, it becomes clear that the night is not going to be a good one for the GOP. Palin looks fine, her body language projects confidence and she is clearly not afraid of Biden. The problem is that it is clear that she has no idea what the fuck she is talking about. She is hesitating, tripping over words, has no grasp of the issues, and yet continues to smile the smile of someone who has used beauty and guile to get where they are… a place where those traits no longer cut it.
John is simmering through the first five minutes, and everyone knows it’s a matter of time before he erupts. Lindsay hands him another gin. The two Senators share a brief, knowing glance, before Lindsay turns briefly to the tv, shakes his head softly and leaves the room without saying a word.
John takes a sip of the new gin, before very slowly and deliberately turning to Rock Davis, a man whose face has now turned to silent, quivering jelly. He realizes full well what is going on: “Rick, we need to drop her. Now. Make it happen.”
Rick bows his head and takes a deep breath. He knows what he is about to say will have a very profound and real impact on his immediate future. He knows his boss and he knows he has put himself in an impossible position. Dump her, and he loses the base. Keep her, and he risks putting an utterly incompetent political hack into the White House. Something has to give.
“Senator, I think we need to think about this. Let’s see how the overnight polling-”
“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, RICK,” screams McCain rising up out of his chair. “She just whiffed on the name of the president of Afghanistan! She fucking met him two fucking weeks ago! What the fuck did you do to prep her? Is this a motherfucking joke? She’s out there humiliating this campaign! She just contradicted everything I’ve been saying for the past month and a half! How the hell did this happen? How the FUCK did this happen? We’re fucking getting rid of her and that’s the way it is!”
Davis knows there’s no hope of changing the Senator’s mind, but he’s got to try. “Look, Senator, if we drop her now, it’s suicide. Everyone will see right through it, they’ll know that we picked someone incompetent for the job and had to go back on it when our position got untenable… and forget about the Hillary voters. We might as well gift-wrap Pennsylvania and Michigan after that.”
“Don’t give me that shit, you little pussy-footed freak! This is your god damn fault. I wanted Lieberman, and YOU talked me out of it, you treacherous little shit! Hell, she just said on national-fucking-televison that she favored more deregulation to correct the credit crisis, she’s contradictig every message we’ve been trying to get out for the past two month! We need to drop this bitch right fucking now! I made this a campaign about experience and judgement, so what the fuck does it say about me when my campaign can’t even make her look fit enough to run a GOD DAMN BASKIN ROBBINS? Biden is eating our fucking lunch! This is fucking horseshit, this is a soup sandwich, she’s out. Find a way to drop her.”
“Senator, with all due respect you were in favor of more deregulation two months ago. These are messages, they’re not hard to change. We’ll spin it. Besides, our base is with is while she is with us.”
“I don’t give a damn at this point. She is making fools out of us!”
“As long as she keeps saying ‘lower taxes,’ that is all we need. Hell, she could turn it around, she hasn’t even gotten to the pit bull line yet, she can turn it-”
“Not now, Cindy. This is not the fucking time.”
Silence falls over the room. John glares quietly at the TV set as Biden sinks his teeth into her leg yet again, drawing huge applause from the on-site crowd in St. Louis. Biden is one man who is clealry enjoying himself tonight. John takes a big swig from his gin and twirls the glass around again, scanning his brain, one seasoned by a 26-year congressional career, searching for the answer.
He slowly turns back to Davis: “Now you listen here Rick: You schedule a press conference with her at 9 am Monday morning. She is going back to spend more time with her family in Alaska and that is it. She would love to be vice president, but she just can’t stand to see her kids grow up without her and she would like to return to see to the business of Alaska. That is it, make it happen.”
“What if she plays hardball, refuses to drop out?”
“Fuck it, tell her we’ll give her an ambassadorship. If she still won’t do it…” his voice trails off.
Cindy is staring quietly at the TV with an open mouth, the look of someone who can’t believe what she is seeing. Davis knows that’s the way its going to be, and his seasoned political mind is already churning over the playbook. He turns to look out the window at the glow of the Chevy dealership across the street. Palin’s voice is the only sound in the room, filling the air with senseless gibberish. “Who are we going to replace her with,” asks, not turning around.
McCain pauses for a moment, looking gravely at the TV. “Santorum. Get Rick Santorum on the phone…”