PHOENIX — As a top adviser in Sen. John McCain's now-imploded campaign tells the story, it was bad enough that Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska unwittingly scheduled, and then took, a prank telephone call from a Canadian comedian posing as the president of France. Far worse, the adviser said, she failed to inform her ticket-mate about her rogue diplomacy.
As a senior adviser in the Palin campaign tells the story, the charge is absurd. The call had been on Palin's schedule for three days, the adviser said, and she should not have been faulted if the McCain campaign was too clueless to notice.
Whatever the truth, one thing is certain. Palin was the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and McCain's that raged from mid September up until moments before McCain's concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Palin was in only infrequent contact with McCain, top advisers said.
The tensions and their increasingly public airing provide a revealing coda to the ill-fated McCain-Palin ticket, hinting at the mounting turmoil of a campaign that was described even by many Republicans as incoherent, negative and badly run.
For her part, Palin said in Arizona Wednesday morning that "there is absolutely no diva in me." Later in the day, she refused to address the strife within the campaign. "I have absolutely no intention of engaging in any of the negativity because this has been all positive for me."
As the running mate with a potentially brighter political future, Palin has more at stake going forward than McCain, whose aides now have an interest in blaming outside factors for their loss, making Palin a tempting target.
The tensions were described in interviews with top aides to the two campaigns who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be seen as disloyal to McCain's effort at a difficult time.
The disputes within the campaign centered in large part on the Republican National Committee's $150,000 wardrobe for Palin and her family, but also on what McCain advisers considered Palin's lack of preparation for her disastrous interview with Katie Couric of CBS News and her refusal to take advice from McCain's campaign.
But behind those episodes may be a greater subtext: anger within the McCain camp that Palin harbored political ambitions beyond 2008.
As late as Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before McCain's concession speech, even though vice presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on election night. But Palin met with McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, a close McCain adviser, and Steve Schmidt, McCain's top strategist.
On Wednesday, two top McCain campaign advisers said the clothing purchases for Palin and her family were a particular source of outrage for them. They said Palin had been advised by Nicolle Wallace, a senior McCain aide, that she should buy three new suits for the Republican National Convention in September and three more suits for the fall campaign. The budget for the clothes was anticipated to be $20,000 to $25,000, the officials said.
Instead, in a public relations debacle, bills came in to the Republican National Committee for about $150,000. The bills included clothing for Palin's family as well as shoes, luggage and jewelry, the advisers said.
The advisers described the McCain campaign as incredulous about the shopping spree and said Republican National Committee lawyers would likely go to Alaska to try to account for all that was spent.
Palin has defended her wardrobe as the idea of the Republican National Committee and said that she would give it back.