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Exit of Key Aides Reveals Strife in Palin World

Exit of Key Aides Reveals Strife in Palin World

By Scott Conroy - February 18, 2011

The departure of longtime Palin aides Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin is the latest indicator of the turmoil that has for years dogged former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's constantly evolving inner circle as she struggles to mount a stable political operation to set the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, Palin aides moved to spin Recher and McMarlin's departure, first reported in New York Magazine earlier this week, as one that was always planned and amicable. But several sources with direct knowledge of the situation told RealClearPolitics that Recher and McMarlin's exits from Palin's sphere were anything but harmonious.

During the 2008 vice presidential campaign, Recher -- a 31-year-old veteran of the Bush White House -- became one of Palin's most-trusted advisers, as he helped her to navigate the intricacies of a national campaign and vigorously defended her against aides to John McCain who had turned on her amid a series of public stumbles and private infighting.

Recher remained close to Palin following the campaign and traveled to Alaska both before and after she announced her decision to resign from office in order to plan the rehabilitation of her image and help set the course for her political future.

Along with McMarlin, a seasoned GOP communications specialist, Recher formed a company called NorthStar Strategies shortly after Palin stepped down in 2009 and continued to be a central figure in Palin's inner circle.

NorthStar's name was a clear reference to Palin's frequent allusions to Alaska as the "great north star" and revealed the duo's long-term plans to remain aligned with the former governor.

Recher organized Palin's successful Going Rogue nationwide book tour and was often photographed by Palin's side as she signed copies of her bestselling book in venues across the country.

"You have to give Jason credit for a portion of her continued popularity with her supporters," Peter Watkins, who worked in the White House with Recher, said. "Just look at the operation that has been run. That book tour was quite sophisticated. It was on a national scale, and you had media attention at every stop."

Recher's other crowning achievement at SarahPAC came after he introduced Palin to the founders of PassCode Creative -- the Nashville-based video production company that produced SarahPAC's 2010 "Mama Grizzlies" campaign-style video. The video was almost universally praised for its high-quality production value and resonance with female voters.

According to PassCode Creative's co-founder Eric Welch, it was Recher's idea to direct the video's focus toward an appeal to women in advance of the 2010 midterm elections.

"Jason is very sharp, and he's very good at strategy," Welch said. "It's so great when you work with people who get it. Jason was the one who pushed the idea of using someone outside of D.C. for the video. We're totally outside of D.C, and she went rogue with us, and obviously, it worked."

But sometime around the middle of last year, Recher fell out of favor with Palin, although no one with knowledge of the incident in question would agree to go on the record to discuss it.

Over the next several months, Palin kept Recher and McMarlin on the payroll, but it became obvious to reporters that Recher was no longer in the loop in the way he used to be.

SarahPAC's effort to sell a "nothing to see here" story to the media in downplaying Recher and McMarlin's roles appeared not to sit well with former colleagues, who lined up to vouch for both men's talents.

Dana Perino, who was White House press secretary during part of Recher's stint in the Bush administration, said that anyone who thought that Recher's work was confined exclusively to setting up travel and events "didn't understand politics."

Perino said that Recher was particularly helpful in the White House whenever he used his "institutional memory" of Bush's two presidential campaigns in order to maximize political opportunities.

"He was so poised and organized, and I never, ever saw him crack under pressure," Perino said. "There's hardly anybody with the type of experience that he has and the temperament to do what he does and do it well. He can put up with a lot of crap."

Republican consultant Jim Merrill, who has known Recher since working with him on Bush's New Hampshire primary campaign in 1999, was also eager to sing the Granite State native's praises.

"He's truly one of the most outstanding, talented operatives I've known," Merrill said of Recher. "When you work at that level at the White House, rising up the ranks the way he did, there's just a great degree of sophistication and complexity involved in a job like that, and I think he proved himself time and again."

Ohio-based lobbyist Neil Clark has known McMarlin since they each worked for Republican candidates in the 1980s. Clark took particular umbrage at how, in his view, the Palin team slighted McMarlin.

"This guy is not just some token employee of an organization; he does lots of different things," Clark said. "Doug's got more relevancy than [Palin] does. More people are going to speak highly of him than her."

An aide who currently works for a potential 2012 presidential candidate told RealClearPolitics that Recher and McMarlin have been making inquiries to prominent Republicans who are exploring presidential runs.

Dana Perino said that any White House hopeful would be smart to employ the services of NorthStar Strategies.

"If I were a presidential candidate putting together an organization and needed somebody that understood national politics and had been through the wringer a couple of times, I'd be begging for someone like Recher and Doug to come and work for me because you're not going to find those people anywhere else," Perino said.

Earlier this month, Palin hired longtime GOP operative Michael Glassner to be SarahPAC's chief of staff. She addressed the move on Thursday during an appearance in front of a business group on Long Island, New York.

"I hired a chief of staff because, to tell you the truth, Todd's getting kind of tired of doing it all for me," Palin said, according to Politico.

Every member of Palin's inner circle, excluding her husband Todd, entered her political sphere after August of 2008. And throughout her relatively short career as a major public figure, Palin has gone through a long list of top aides.

Alaska Republican operative John Bitney helped run Palin's successful 2006 gubernatorial campaign and went on to become a close aide when she took office in Juneau. Palin later fired Bitney and dismissed him in Going Rogue as a "Blackberry games addict who couldn't seem to keep his lunch off his tie."

Longtime friend and adviser Kris Perry was Palin's only Alaska aide who traveled with her on the vice presidential campaign trail. Perry returned to the governor's office in 2009 before leaving Palin's political orbit.

Former reporter turned trusted Palin confidante Meg Stapleton resigned from SarahPAC in early 2010 to spend more time with her family, and attorney Tom Van Flein -- who doubled as a close adviser and conduit between Palin and outsiders -- left his Anchorage law office late last year to become the legislative director for freshman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

In his new role as SarahPAC's chief of staff, Glassner will face the task of cultivating a sense of cohesion among the Palin aides who are scattered around the country.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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