Over the course of Game Change, Steve Schmidt‘s arc moves him from assertive and cocksure to worried and then completely panicked and hopeless over the vice presidential candidacy — and erratic behavior — of an untested YouTube-scouted Alaskan governor named Sarah Palin. And while yes, it’s Woody Harrelson, not the actual Schmidt, on screen in HBO’s election drama, the real life Republican strategist and former adviser to John McCain‘s presidential campaign says that the film is true to the real life story.
“I think it was very accurate,” Schmidt told the hosts of Morning Joe on Monday. “For all of us in the campaign, it really rang true. It gave you a little bit of PTSD at times. It did for me .But, look, I think it’s a story of when cynicism and idealism collide. When you have to do things necessary to win, to try to get in office to do the great things you want to do for the country and I think it showed a process of vetting that was debilitated by secrecy, that was compartmentalized, that failed, that led to a result that was reckless for the country.”
On Friday, Palin slammed the film, saying that it was “based on a false narrative” and that she was unconcerned with “being in the good graces of Hollywood’s Team Obama.” Director Jay Roach and Danny Strong, for their part, told ABC’s Howard Kurtz on Sunday that they interviewed over two dozen people to verify and enrich all the information they took from the Mark Halperin and John Heilemann-authored book on which the film was based.
In a nod to her public speaking ability — in the film, Harrelson’s Schmidt calls her the best actress in America — the GOP adviser said that Palin was “phenomenally talented at so many levels” with “an ability to connect” and was a “net positive” politically, but was “manifestly unprepared to take the oath of office [as President] should it become necessary.”
Former White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace, who worked closely with Palin during the campaign, is portrayed by Sarah Paulson as having a difficult relationship with the Governor and a deep cynicism over her abilities to acquit herself on the national stage; the terse non-exchanges that leave stillborn the pair’s work to cram for press interviews are some of the most unsettling in the movie. On Sunday, Wallace acknowledged that the film was “true enough to make me squirm.”
In the film, Harrelson’s Schmidt is Palin’s main advocate at first, convincing McCain that his preferred running mate, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, would divide the Republican base and guarantee a loss, while Palin could excite the base and be a rockstar on the level of their opponent, then-Senator Barack Obama.
Schmidt told the hosts on Monday that he was part of the team that made the decision in real life, but that conversations in the film did take place back during the race. And ultimately, he said, “I think the notion of Sarah Palin being President of the United States is something that frightens me, frankly. And I played a part in that. And played a part in that because we were fueled by ambition to win.”
He also said that he hoped that Palin did not have a future in the Republican Party, as she has not worked to rectify her weaknesses and has become a vengeful personality.