A few days ago, when news broke that Sarah Palin had hired a chief of staff, many took it as a sign that the former Alaska governor was finally stamping a formal structure on her freewheeling political operation. The arrival of Palin’s new chief of staff, Michael Glassner, a GOP political operative from New Jersey, ignited renewed speculation that she was planning a 2012 White House run. But rather than indicating an increasingly focused organization ramping up for a campaign, the real story may be that the operation is running pretty much the way it always has, which, this being Sarah Palin, is barely controlled chaos. More than two years after her national debut, Palin is still having trouble retaining key advisers: Glassner’s arrival comes not long after Palin had a falling out with one of her most loyal aides.
According to sources with knowledge of Palinland, Palin parted ways with longtime aides Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin just before the midterm elections. Until recently, Recher was a key player in Palin’s operation. The shuffling of mid-level staffers would seem like a minor, inside development, but the move carries much larger significance: Palin’s staffing issues remain one of her biggest political weak spots when compared to her talents as a speaker, fund-raiser, and media personality.
Recher, a 31-year-old GOP operative, was perhaps Palin’s most trusted supporter in the trenches of the ‘08 run (he famously encouraged her to go to Michigan against the wishes of McCain headquarters). Known on the ‘08 campaign for his well-honed impressions of President Bush, Recher bonded with Palin, and following the campaign, Recher and McMarlin formed a consulting company, NorthStar Strategies, which ran Palin’s travel schedule and logistics. They organized Palin’s national book tour for Going Rogue. According to the most recent financial filing, NorthStar billed SarahPAC, her political operation, $10,000 in November 2010.
But Recher came to take on more than a simple logistics role: He participated in the morning conference call with Palin’s small coterie of advisers and often served as a de facto press secretary. But around the time the 2010 midterm elections rolled around, Recher mysteriously dropped out of Palinland. He was no longer on conference calls and went off to help organize the book tour for Bush’s memoir, Decision Points. When the Decision Points book tour concluded, Recher didn’t return to the Palin camp. Sources close to Palinland wouldn’t say why Recher and Palin split. “We never hear about this stuff,” one source explained, saying simply that Recher just was no longer in the picture. (Recher and McMarlin didn’t respond to several phone messages and e-mails.)
Glassner isn’t well known on the national stage. He’s a former adviser to Bob Dole who earned Palin’s loyalty as chief of staff of her bumpy 2008 vice-presidential campaign. Glassner is certainly a respected operative — but he’s not the sort of transformative figure who, at long last, is going to be able to make the Palin trains run on time. The likelihood is that, as in 2008, he’s not going to get in the way of her going rogue. Which is just the way she likes it.