02.15.11

Sarah Palin's New Chief of Staff: The Good and the Bad

The appointment of Michael Glassner as Palin's chief of staff suggests the old way of doing business is not working and that a steady hand is needed ahead of a possible presidential bid, writes Shushannah Walshe.

The appointment of Michael Glassner as Palin's chief of staff suggests the old way of doing business is not working and that a steady hand is needed ahead of a possible presidential bid, writes Shushannah Walshe. Plus, Glassner's role in the Palin campaign wardrobe fiasco.

Over the weekend, SarahPAC filled the chief of staff role on Sarah Palin's team. Her husband, Todd, had been functioning in the role, but now Michael Glassner, a former Bob Dole adviser, veteran Republican operative, and most recently a staffer on Palin's vice-presidential campaign, has been added to the small organization, a move first reported by CNN. Glassner worked as director of operations for the campaign and has the experience to streamline a team whose staffers and consultants are all over the country and the world (consultant Joshua Livestro lives in London). His appointment comes as Jason Recher, a veteran adviser to the former Alaska governor who acted as top aide before being sidelined by speechwriter and social-media guru Rebecca Mansour, has left her staff.

Glassner's longtime political skills, coupled with his calming presence and friendly temperament, will make him a welcome addition to the Palin world of constant requests and media inquiries. It may be a sign that the old way of doing business on the Palin team is not working and that they recognize that to run a presidential bid, or even just a political operation, they need a chief of staff.

There are two important points that haven't already been brought up about Glassner and Palin. This isn't the first time Glassner has been tapped as chief of staff for Palin. He was originally chosen to be the traveling chief of staff in the very first days of Palin's addition to the 2008 campaign, but was quickly replaced with an old friend of chief strategist Steve Schmidt, Andrew Smith. During the campaign, Smith was often blamed for the chaos and tension on the road, and staffers would at times mention that Glassner would have been the better choice. Also during the campaign, Glassner would talk to Todd Palin and complain about campaign leadership, which endeared him to the Palins, and sparked a friendship.

Former aides say Glassner is a smart hire with exactly the right temperament. A staffer who traveled with Palin on the campaign described him as "wonderful to work with in 2008 and a steady hand and professional leader during chaotic times."

Despite his glowing recommendations and cool temperament under pressure, however, there is at least one reason Glassner may be a bit of an odd choice. During the campaign, Palin shouldered a lot of the blame when it was reported that the RNC had spent more than $150,000 on clothes for the governor and her family. After the campaign, it was revealed that she had very little to do with the spending and that much of the high-end clothes went unworn. But even after the initial purchase by a stylist at the convention in St. Paul, the shopping went on. It was Glassner who gave permission for the spending to continue. He told five of Palin's traveling aides that they could spend up to $28,000 each, on the advice of a campaign lawyer wanting to remain within campaign-contribution limits. The aides were told to put the purchases on their personal credit cards and that they would be reimbursed.

Palin shouldered a lot of the blame when it was reported the RNC had spent more than $150,000 on clothes for her and her family in the campaign. It was Glassner who gave permission for the spending to continue.

The purchases were items Palin needed on the road, but many were high-end pieces bought by young staffers who were just following the price limit that came from Glassner. So when Palin asked for a warmer coat, more comfortable shoes, or headphones, she at times got expensive items purchased in whatever city the campaign was in. One example was when Palin asked for headphones and she received $350 Bose noise-canceling headphones. Palin also had made clear she didn't feel comfortable with some of the designer clothes bought at Neiman Marcus during the convention; as a result, the shopping shifted to more affordable stores. Even so, the purchases combined for a staggering final amount that became an embarrassing story that threatened her everywoman reputation. And the expenditures had everyone inside the campaign looking at whom to blame—and asking whether the permission Glassner gave the traveling aides, to spend up to an additional $28,000, had been communicated through the proper channels.

It's also important to remember, however, that chaos reigned during the campaign because of infighting between the McCain and Palin camps, the push-pull between headquarters and the plane, and fractured communication. It's not clear if Glassner even knew about the original money spent by the stylist in St. Paul when he green-lighted the additional spending. In the end it didn't matter, because it was Palin who got blamed—forging the story line that she was the one running through the mall ripping high-end merchandise off store shelves.

Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.