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Top 2008 campaign aides shut out of McCain funeral

Mourners touch the casket during a memorial service for Senator John McCain at the Arizona Capitol. | Jae C. Hong/AFP/Getty Images

Campaign manager Steve Schmidt, senior adviser Nicolle Wallace, and longtime strategist John Weaver were snubbed, as was former running mate Sarah Palin.

John McCain’s funeral will spotlight some of the late senator’s political rivals – but some of his closest campaign aides are being excluded from the proceedings.

Three of the most prominent members of his 2008 presidential campaign – campaign manager Steve Schmidt, senior adviser Nicolle Wallace, and longtime strategist John Weaver — were not invited to any of McCain’s services, according to three people familiar with the guest list.

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It’s not clear whether McCain ordered the snubbing of formerly high-ranking aides before his death. The McCain family has carefully organized all of the funeral proceedings, which begin Thursday in Arizona and conclude Saturday at the National Cathedral. Invitations were extended on Monday with RSVPs from invitees requested by Tuesday, according to one of the people familiar with the proceedings.

Tucker Bounds, a former McCain campaign aide and a spokesman for the team organizing the memorial services, declined to comment.

After nearly a week filled with eulogies from friends and family remembering McCain’s finest qualities, the exclusion of the trio, along with McCain’s 2008 running mate Sarah Palin, is a quiet acknowledgment of an unhappier chapter of his life.

Lindsey Graham is pictured. | AP Photo

The campaign saw McCain rise from the ashes in the winter of 2007 to become the Republican nominee, but it also spawned legendary staff feuds: McCain went through two campaign strategists, including Weaver, before settling on Schmidt.

The exclusions are also indication that, ten years on, McCain and his family still resent the fallout from the senator’s decision to choose the former Alaska governor as his vice-presidential candidate, which elicited from some of his closest advisers.

In the wake of the 2008 campaign, Schmidt and Wallace were publicly critical of McCain’s decision to tap Palin, though Schmidt played a role in it himself. Both cooperated with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s 2009 book “Game Change,” which chronicled Palin’s tumultuous time on the campaign trail and helped catapult Schmidt and Wallace to national fame after HBO turned the book into a movie.

McCain viewed their lack of discretion as a betrayal, and it led to a six-year estrangement with Schmidt. The senator said publicly at the time that he would not see the movie, calling the book “completely biased.”

”I don’t understand, even in the tough world of politics, why there continues to be such an assault on a good and decent person,” he said, referring to Palin. “I admired and respect her. I’m proud of our campaign.” When Fox News host Chris Wallace pressed him about Schmidt’s remark that he regretted his involvement in Palin’s selection, McCain replied: “I regret that he would make such a statement.”

Weaver, the brains behind the Straight Talk Express – the cross-country bus that became McCain’s calling card on the campaign trail in both 2000 and 2008 – resigned from McCain’s 2008 campaign when it appeared on the brink of defeat, and subsequently criticized McCain for campaigning in a way that Weaver felt diminished him.

When the campaign ran an ad comparing then-Sen. Barack Obama to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, Weaver remarked: “John’s been a celebrity ever since he was shot down.”

John McCain

Schmidt, Wallace, and Weaver did not respond to a request for comment.

“That cathedral will be filled with people who stabbed McCain in the front. Schmidt and Nicolle and Weaver stabbed him in the back and you can’t find a single McCain loyalist who will say different or feels different,” said one of the people familiar with the guest list and funeral arrangements.

But a person close to Schmidt said that he and McCain had reconciled in recent years, speaking multiple times in the year before the senator’s death, and that there was no unfinished business left between them. In his final book, “The Restless Wave,” McCain warmly recounted several moments shared with Schmidt on the campaign trail – but did not mention Wallace or Weaver.

All three former McCain advisers are now affiliated with MSNBC, Wallace as a host of its 4pm weekday show “Deadline: White House” and Schmidt and Weaver as network contributors, and they have offered glowing tributes to the senator on Twitter and on the air since his death.

Weaver has also talked on-air about conversations he had with McCain over the past several months. “As much as we were prepared for this time period and these days coming up, it’s been tough,” Weaver told NBC’s Hallie Jackson on Thursday. “I’m trying to reflect on my time with John and the impact he had on so many around the country.”

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