If Sarah Palin is her party's nominee for president in 2012 it will be a "catastrophic election" for the GOP, Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign manager predicted on Friday.
Longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt -- who ran McCain's campaign and played a role in picking Palin as the senator's running mate -- offered a scathing assessment of the former Alaska governor's political trajectory.
"I think that she has talent," Schmidt said, "but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican Party in 2012."
"She is someone who has a passionate base that constitutes millions of Americans," Schmidt said. "But in the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond that base into the middle of the electorate where elections are decided."
Speaking at The Atlantic's First Draft of History Conference, Schmidt was asked, initially, to respond to Palin's forthcoming book, "Going Rogue", and how he thought he would be portrayed in it.
"I think it may say that I was anti-rogue in the running of the campaign," he replied, hinting at the frictions between him and Palin that have been extensively reported since the end of the 2008 campaign.
Schmidt did compliment Palin for engendering fascination among millions of people throughout the country. "Just look at her pre-sales numbers," he said of her book. And he even added that it was not "inconceivable that she could be Republican nominee for president of the United States."
But, he qualified, it would be "fairly inconceivable" that she could end up being president. "In fact, were she to be the nominee we could have a catastrophic election."
Schmidt: The GOP "Holistically Is Bereft Of Ideas" On Health Care
In comments almost certain to rankle Republicans on Capital Hill, Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign manager Steve Schmidt accused the GOP on Friday of having no comprehensive alternative to Democratic health care reform.
In an appearance at The Atlantic's First Draft of History conference, the longtime GOP strategist did argue that individual Republicans, notably Rep, Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), were "advancing ideas" on health care legislation.
"But the party holistically is bereft of ideas," Schmidt added.
The remarks come at a time when Republicans are already beating back accusations that the party has not been a viable or honest bargaining partner during reform negotiations. As such, they seem destined to even further Schmidt's alienation within conservative ranks. Earlier in his speech, the McCain strategist ruffled feathers when he predicted that if former VP candidate Sarah Palin -- whom he helped pick as McCain's running mate -- were to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, it would be "catastrophic" for the party.
But Schmidt insists that his complaint with the GOP is driven by a simple desire to ensure long-term success. Part of the recuperating process, he added, means finding a firmer and more innovative base of policy ideas around which to re-build the party
"Ronald Reagan's conservatism was relevant to the age and time that he lived in," Schmidt told the crowd, "and the challenge for the next presidential candidates is to make conservatism relevant to the time that we live in today."
"One of the things that hurt us very badly [during the campaign] and I think that this was not John McCain's fault... was that the conservative agenda -- largely enacted -- I think exhausted itself," he added. "There were no new ideas. And we would have policy meetings in the campaign and there would be a lowest common denominator product that would emerge; no innovative thinking, no new ideas, and I would joke around at the time and say 'Well, I guess we will continue to run on our platform of tax cuts for the wealthy and endless war.' It was a little gallows humor inside the campaign. But it underlined a serious point."
Another catalyst for a GOP re-birth, Schmidt stressed, would be for elected leaders to remove themselves from under the weight and influence of the conservative media elite - namely, Fox News' Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and talk radio's Rush Limbaugh.
"I think people with regard to their vote... make their own decisions," he said. "Sometimes they agree with Rush Limbaugh, sometimes they don't.... It is up to the leaders to the party to lead the party. The leadership of the party cannot be outsourced to the conservative entertainment complex. And if it is, then it will become impossible for the party to win elections."