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Former McCain Campaign Manager Separates Fact from Fiction on Palin Blame Game

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," November 12, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, you get the inside story about Senator McCain's campaign from the ultimate insider, the campaign manager. Now, for the past week, the media has reported about in-fighting within the Senator McCain's campaign. Anonymous sources have spread nasty stories about Governor Palin. What are the facts and what is the fiction? Moments ago, we spoke to Rick Davis, Senator McCain's campaign manager.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Rick, thank you for joining us.

RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thank you for having me, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Rick. Since many of us have not had the pleasure of serving or working in a campaign, what was your title the McCain-Palin ticket?

DAVIS: Well, I actually started out in the campaign almost two years ago -- actually, two years ago as the chairman of the campaign. And then when we had a turnover in the campaign about a year later, I became chairman and campaign manager, which basically added the day-to-day responsibilities of the campaign.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what does that mean? I mean, day to day -- were you on the trail or were you in the campaign headquarters?

DAVIS: Well, a little bit of both. I mean, you know, there are certain events like big debates and things like that where you have to go and especially dealing with the media. They want to see you and talk to you. But by and large, I tried to stay here in the headquarters here in Washington, D.C. It was right across the river in Arlington. And we had a lot of different issues in our campaign. At one point, we only had about 50 people in the entire campaign. And then later it was 500. So those kinds of, like, shrinking and then growing and then shrinking and growing, I had to attend to that mostly from Washington.

VAN SUSTEREN: So CEO? Would that be sort of an analogy?

DAVIS: Yes, it would be. And I think that's -- really, the buck stops there. I mean, you have division heads, political, finance, you know, media, strategy, all these different groups that report to you. And by and large, you know, my view was they need to make as many decisions as they can. And by and large, they'd make the good, easy ones. But any of the tough stuff usually wound up on my desk.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, the controversies. Let's start first with the comment about Africa and that it is -- is that a leak or a lie? I mean, what the statement is, is that Governor Palin was confused or didn't know whether Africa was a country or a continent. Leak or lie?

DAVIS: Yes. I don't know. I wasn't in those debate sessions. We had...

VAN SUSTEREN: Has anyone told you that she said that?

DAVIS: No. I think, from my perspective, it's probably just another aspect of what has happened to Governor Palin since the campaign ended, and that is that...

VAN SUSTEREN: But as leak -- but...

DAVIS: ... A bunch of people taking out a grudge, I guess.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, taking out a grudge, but are they repeating something that's true or something that's a flat-out lie ?

DAVIS: No, look, Sarah Palin knows the difference between a continent and a country. She knows the difference between, you know, right and wrong. She knows a lot of the things that she's been able to so well demonstrate on the campaign. And look at the outcome of that debate. I mean, I think she won that debate against Joe Biden, a seasoned veteran who'd been in Congress 30-plus years. And I thought she ate his lunch.

And so, you know, my view is, not being in the room, I'm -- you know, I have absolutely no idea what transpired -- you know, transpired during that period of time, but I have total confidence that Governor Palin knows exactly what she was doing.

Watch Greta's interview

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know who is passing or who's peddling that trash?

DAVIS: No. You know, it's, like -- unfortunately...

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you suspicious?

DAVIS: Let me tell you, it is a classic example of campaigns. You know, you win a campaign, you're a genius. If you lose a campaign, you're a bum. And you know, what happens when you lose campaigns is that everybody, you know, takes out their anxieties on each other and...

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's mean. I mean, like...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: ... Anonymous source undermining someone's intelligence...

DAVIS: Anonymous source. We don't even know who it is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Right. But are you suspicious? Do you know who it might be?

DAVIS: No. And you know, I don't waste my time on that. Let me tell you, two years in a presidential campaign...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why? Wouldn't you want to stop it?

DAVIS: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: But wouldn't you want to say -- wouldn't you (INAUDIBLE) you know, you're the CEO of this company, say, you know, I think you did that, I know you no longer work for me, but stop it.

DAVIS: Well, you don't know who it is. That's the whole point.

VAN SUSTEREN: But are you suspicious?

DAVIS: I mean, we had leaks literally every week for two years. Every week for two years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Leaks or lies?

DAVIS: Well, you don't know. I mean, half the time, these things are printed in the newspapers, nobody even called our campaign. Nobody said, Oh, do you believe this or not? And I went on the record with many of these things and said, you know, things I know were not truthful, and I would say, Look, this is Rick Davis. I'm the campaign manager. I was there at this time, and this is a fact. Now, you can print a fact or you can print what isn't a fact by some anonymous source.

Now, to me that is a higher quality -- quote, "higher quality" source than anything else, when the boss of the campaign goes on the record and says something. But that's not the way it's been this year with the media. The media has been more interested in printing anonymous sources than they have been talking to those who are in charge and getting the truth.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me ask several wild hypothetical questions.

DAVIS: Uh-oh!

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: No, in politics, we never answer hypotheticals!

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if this is -- I don't know if this is far or not, but do you think this would have happened if the vice presidential nominee were a man?

DAVIS: Oh, yes, sure because, I mean, look...

VAN SUSTEREN: So you think a guy would have gotten the same -- same anonymous sort of, you know, trashing about...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Yes. You can look back on every single campaign. Look at the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Did Edwards get trashed after the campaign? Of course he did. That's exactly what happened to him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he sort of -- I mean, he sort of earned his trash...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: We don't want to confuse our trashings of Senator Edwards.

DAVIS: It always happens. I mean, that's my whole point about -- you know, campaigns that win, they look like well-oiled machines no matter what they were. And campaigns that lose always have this kind of level of dysfunction.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it the media -- is the media complicit with this?

DAVIS: Sure. I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: ... Whole round of those quotes, not one of them was on the record. Not a single quote was on the record when all that stuff first came out.

VAN SUSTEREN: I agree with you on that, by the way. I mean, look, if this were a whistleblower or government malfeasance or a felony or something else, but when you're just -- you know, when you're just basically trash talking someone...

DAVIS: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... You ought to have the courage to put your name on it.

DAVIS: You ought to put your name on it. Look, the campaign wasn't active. These people weren't employees anymore. Why wouldn't they put their name on it if they want to speak out like that? And by the way, that is a habit that the media's gotten into on virtually everything. And all they had to do was call the campaign. All they had to do was call me or one of the officials in the campaign to get an on the record quote, but they didn't. They went ahead and rushed this stuff to print, rushed it on TV because it was -- it had sizzle. You know, it was -- it was exciting because they could have some Republican trashing another Republican.

And look, I'm for the 11th commandment. You know, I grew up in this town with Ronald Reagan. I came to Washington in 1980 with Ronald Reagan as part of his administration, part of his campaign. And I thought that was exactly the right approach, and we need to learn some lessons from the past.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you spoken to Governor Palin since this broke?

DAVIS: Oh, sure. Yes. No, I've had regular contact with her, you know, since...

VAN SUSTEREN: What'd she say about this?

DAVIS: ... The campaign ended. You know, I think sad (ph). I mean, you know, it's unfortunate. I don't think she lets it bother her. She's thinking bigger things than this. But look, I think she had a great time on the campaign. I think it was a unique opportunity for her, and it certainly worked really well for us. And I think by and large, you know, on the balance, everything, you know, was great. And I think she's still very, you know, excited about it. But it's -- you know, it's a horrible way to end something.

VAN SUSTEREN: She's in Florida at this governors conference, Republican governors. Is she a player in 2012?

DAVIS: Well, it's up to her. Is she a player in our party? Sure. I mean, look at the excitement she created on the campaign trail. I mean, everywhere she went, she created these huge crowds. I mean, we were just talking, you know, yesterday with a couple people about the contrast between Governor Palin's tour and Joe Biden's tour. With Governor Palin, it wasn't unusual to have 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people show up at her events. You know, Biden was more like 500 to 1,000 and in the same cities, around the same time. So I mean, she gave great energy to our party, and I hope she continues to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rick, thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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