UPDATE, 2:15 p.m.: In a statement to The Weekly Standard, Todd Palin has confirmed that the e-mails are real and says they were the product of a misunderstanding:
"My family has worked hard in supporting Joe Miller, so when I heard he'd said something less than supportive of my wife's efforts, I responded. But it turns out we'd gotten our wires crossed and Joe hadn't said anything like what I'd been told. So there's no story here except the fact that the press put our personal emails online again, and again couldn't even be bothered to conceal our email addresses or take any steps to protect our privacy."
That's good news for Miller, and should help to quiet the story down. But it isn't the end of the story. As we noted earlier, the e-mails offer a very strong indication that Sarah Palin plans to seek the GOP nomination in 2012. And this won't calm any fear about the Palin team's message control. As David Frum noted in response to Todd Palin's statement, the fact that Palin would deliver such a diatribe without having his facts straight is worrisome.
ORIGINAL POST: It's fair to say that Sarah Palin made Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller: he was an unknown long shot hoping to upset a sitting senator until Palin marshaled the Tea Party Express and helped him to upset Lisa Murkowski.
But is Palin's protégé breaking from the pack? A newly leaked e-mail chain suggests pretty serious tension between Palin's husband, Todd, and Miller. Neither side has confirmed or denied the legitimacy of the e-mails, which first appeared Tuesday on an anti-Palin blog, The Mudflats; that site isn't loading now (perhaps from a deluge of traffic), but Gawker has screen shots of the Sept. 19 e-mails. Here's the text:
Joe and Tim,
Hold off on any letter for Joe. Sarah put her ass on the line for Joe and yet he can't answer a simple question " Is Sarah Palin Qualified to be President". I DON'T KNOW IF SHE IS.
Joe, please explain how this endorsement stuff works, is it to be completely one sided.
Sarah spent all morning working on a Face book [sic] post for Joe, she won't use it, not now.
Put yourself in her shoe's [sic] Joe for one day.
Someone using the e-mail name "millerlaw" then forwarded Todd Palin's e-mail, adding "Just found this in my inbox. This is what we're dealing with. Note the date and the complete misconstruction of what I said. Holy cow."
It doesn't sound like much of a party. It's not hard to see why Todd Palin might be annoyed by Miller's refusal to positively endorse a 2012 Palin presidential run. Right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain suggests there's some primary intrigue: members of former Arkansas governor and presumed Palin rival Mike Huckabee are apparently a major presence in Miller's camp.
Three takeaways: although the Palin machine has gotten increasingly more disciplined—while flexing muscle in Miller's race and Christine O'Donnell's contest in Delaware—this e-mail shows that there are still some leaky spots that will need to be sealed soon if Palin decides to run in 2012. (See NEWSWEEK's cover story from last week on the mama-grizzly phenomenon.)
More immediately, though, could the e-mails affect the Alaska race? Will Palin loyalists bolt from Miller? There's not much margin for error. Locally, he's battling reports of nepotism involving his wife, and attracting negative attention for saying the 17th Amendment should be repealed. While the most recent poll showed Miller in the lead in a three-way race, Murkowski—who's running as a write-in candidate—is hot on his heels. Miller can hope that Sarah Palin's long-running feud with Murkowski is enough to make her overlook the leak and help him hold on.
And, finally, for someone who's been as coy as Palin has been about running in 2012, the Todd in the e-mail sure sounded pretty focused on what their next move is. If the e-mail is authentic, it's a solid clue that the race is a go.