The events described took place on Election Night at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, where John McCain had decided at the last moment to preclude Sarah Palin from delivering the concession speech that had been written for her. Palin initially fought to give her speech anyway but gave up when she realized that her now former running mate's mind was made up. The following events, which took place just after McCain addressed the somber crowd at the Biltmore, encapsulate the internal drama and infighting that defined the McCain/Palin campaign as it came to its inglorious end.
Back in the suite, Todd [Palin] broke out a bottle of champagne and poured a glass for everyone in the room. After excusing herself to change clothes, [Sarah Palin] reemerged to toast the "friendships and memories made" on the campaign trail. But after everyone took a sip, she couldn't help but wonder aloud, "What just happened?"
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She asked the Bush campaign veterans if election night was always so dysfunctional. They reminded her that on election night in 2000 and 2004, the outcome had still been in doubt when most Americans had gone to bed, so they didn't have anything with which to compare it.
"There was no closure," Palin said.
As Todd Palin and [senior Palin adviser Jason] Recher began to plan the trip back home the next day, the governor retired to another room in the suite to call in to an election night party in Alaska. When she returned, Recher told her he was going to attend the party that members of the campaign advance staff were throwing in the courtyard.
"Should I go with you?" Palin asked. Recher explained that it was probably best that she didn't. The booze had been flowing for a while now, and the alcohol combined with the intense emotions of the day gave the event the potential to get a little rowdy.
Recher had been at the party for all of five minutes when Piper, the governor's precocious seven-year-old daughter, snuck up behind him. "My mom is looking for you," she said. "She wants to go on stage and take a picture."
Recher didn't have time to think twice about how the governor had ignored his advice. Palin was following not far behind Piper with two or three dozen members of her extended family in tow. Traveling staffers would soon receive messages on their BlackBerries about the group photo plan and make their way to the outdoor stage. Recher's instincts still told him it was not a good idea. There were still a lot of TV cameras in the area. Even though McCain had already left, his aides were likely to see this as an attempt by Palin to have the last word.
"Let's find another area not on the stage," Recher suggested. "The press is still set up, and there are a ton of cameras. They'll likely turn live to cover this."
The group assembled backstage as a kind of compromise. But that didn't feel festive enough to Palin. "I want to go on stage and take a picture with my family," she said.
"All the press is there," Recher recalls reminding her.
"My loyalty is to my family at this point, and I want to do it."
Kris Perry stepped in to try to convince her boss and close friend that Recher was right, but Palin had made up her mind. "I flew them all the way out here," she said. "It's the least I can do."
Recher surrendered and began to assemble the family and some staffers on stage. As startled members of the media looked on, the now former candidate joined the group and began to smile and wave. But the press weren't the only ones who were surprised. Some of McCain's aides could barely believe their eyes as they saw the young rock star of the Republican ticket apparently trying to upstage the venerable senator one last time.
Senior McCain aide Carla Eudy had already left the Biltmore to attend a downcast late dinner at Morton's steakhouse. She received a frantic phone call from [director of advance] Davis White, who told her that it looked as though Palin was about to give her speech after all. Eudy told him in no uncertain terms that Palin's apparent final act of rebellion was unacceptable.
She immediately called [McCain campaign senior strategist] Steve Schmidt, who did not hesitate to issue his last order of the campaign. "Take the set down," he told Eudy. "Unplug it."
Eudy forwarded the message back to Davis White.
"What is going on?" White demanded of Recher. "Is she going to give remarks?"
Recher explained that Palin merely wanted to take pictures with her family, but to White, it sounded like a dubious cover story. Acting on the instructions that had filtered down from Schmidt, White put in a call to the soundboard operator and told him to bring the lights down and cut the sound.
"Come on, this is ridiculous," Recher remembers saying to White.
"We pay for this stuff," White replied.
The lights went down, but the effect was minimal, and no one seemed to notice that the stage had become dimmer as Palin waved and posed for pictures with her family.
When she found out what was happening, an incensed Carla Eudy called Recher to express her displeasure. "You never had control of her," she said, according to Recher. "Get control of her! Get her ass off stage!"
Recher was not in the mood for yet another argument with the McCain team. "The campaign ended tonight, and so did you," he said before hanging up the phone.
Palin did not give a speech as she continued to pose for pictures with her family. Nonetheless, she had succeeded in punctuating the night on her own terms. She would save her next big move for another day.