Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Yeah...those were the days. Whoever thought, once they (spoiler alert) broke up and McCain-Palin lost the election, we'd still be hearing any of these people's names eight years later. But just today, Johnston Facebooked-and-deleted about winning a hard-fought custody battle and $100,000 in legal fees from Bristol. But back to 2008...
Despite the deer-in-the-headlights look, Bristol, 17, and Levi, 18, were brimming with romantic potential then, the Palin family embracing Levi as one of their own—because, as it turned out, Bristol was five months pregnant. Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, revealed the news three days after she was announced as Sen. John McCain's runningmate.
"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," Sarah and husband Todd Palin said in a statement released Sept. 1, 2008. (To capture the country's reaction in a nutshell, Republicans rushed to the Palins' defense, applauding their family values, and then-Sen. Barack Obamadiplomatically stated, "I think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president.")
Levi told a reporter in October 2008 that he wasn't being forced into anything, saying of himself and Bristol, "We both love each other. We both want to marry each other. And that's what we are going to do."
So the plan was for the expectant high school sweethearts to tie the knot. Alas, nothing was ever so simple again.
Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston was born on the morning of Dec. 27, 2008.
"I'm not the first person that it's happened to, and I'm not going to be the last," Bristol told Fox News Channel's Greta van Susteren the following March. She added, "It's not, like, a situation that you want to strive for...Kids should just wait. I don't know...it's not glamorous at all."
But the new mom, who was by then 18, was also completely enamored with her son, of course, as was Tripp's dad. "He's just in love with him as much as I am," she said of Levi. Tripp "brings so much joy. I don't regret it at all."
Then it was easy to feel pretty sorry that Bristol had to defend having the baby to anyone, the teen insisting it had nothing to do with her mom's hardcore anti-abortion stance and that it was entirely her decision. (When she became pregnant with her daughter, Sailor Grace, she re-proved that it's just a bad idea for anyone to make sweeping claims about certain values, because you just never know what the future holds. More on that later, but in 2009, still, no one's business, really.)
She would later write in her 2011 memoir, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far (as excerpted by The Daily Beast), that her virginity had been "stolen" by boyfriend Levi—whom she had known since 7th grade—when she got drunk during a camp-out with friends. "All of my plans, my promises, and my moral standards had disappeared in one awful night in a series of bad decisions," Bristol, who had shared her first kiss with Levi in 2006, wrote.
Bristol dated another boy when the family moved to the Alaskan capital of Juneau to live in the governor's mansion, but she and Levi reconnected in the summer of 2007 when the Palins returned to Wasilla. Bristol wrote that, though she knew Levi was being unfaithful, she went on birth control and they stopped using condoms—and she got pregnant the following spring.
"'You're joking,'" Bristol recalled her mother saying when she broke the news.
Bristol first proposed in July 2008 and got Bristol's name tattooed on his ring finger that August. They broke up in late January 2009, barely a month after Tripp's birth, then secretly reconciled months later. However, per the memoir, just before Us Weekly broke their re-engagement news in July 2010 with a "We're Getting Married!" cover, Levi told Bristol that he had gotten someone else pregnant and that young woman was due in two weeks. (Johnston later denied that part.)
"I really thought we were over," Levi told the magazine at the time. "So when I went, I had no hope. I think we both just started talking—and then we took Tripp for a walk." Added Bristol, in what was their only joint interview, "When he left that night, we didn't hug or kiss, but I was thinking how different it was. He texted me: 'I miss you. I love you. I want to be with you again' ... I was in shock."
Then, according to Bristol, Levi went back to his old ways.
So that was, finally, that. But though the Palins were the celebrities, Levi had also wedged his way into the conversation...
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
He had fed the media beast in his own way in 2009, penning an essay for Vanity Fair that was largely about Sarah Palin and his alleged observations from his months living with Bristol's family.
"There was a lot of talk of divorce in that house," he claimed. His reminiscences included Palin telling him he needed a haircut before the convention and how he was given "two Burberry suits and one Armani suit, Prada shoes, and a cashmere sweater," but then he was asked to give them back after the election.
Levi's memory of how Sarah Palin reacted to the news of Bristol's pregnancy somewhat jives with his ex's. He recalled in VF that Palin said, "'I just told everyone on TV that you weren't pregnant. So how are you pregnant now?'"
Tripp's birth, Levi wrote, "was the happiest day of my life, but it was also terrible because my family couldn't be there. I didn't think Sarah wanted my mom around all the cameras because she had been arrested for selling prescription medication a week and a half earlier."
Courtesy Denise Truscello/WireImage/Sugar Factory
He also wrote that he didn't "ever want to be a deadbeat dad," but that's exactly what Bristol would soon accuse him of being.
Levi moved back into his mom's house after he and Bristol broke up in early 2009. After that, in addition to fathering two children with now-wife Sunny Oglesby (they married in October 2012), he posed nude for Playgirl and appeared on a number of talk shows, as well as penned his own memoir, 2011's Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs. In the book, he wrote that Bristol wanted to get pregnant because her mom was pregnant (with son Trig, who was also born in 2008).
Sarah Palin wrote in her book America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, meanwhile, that it was "disgusting" how Levi was using his connection to her family to boost his own celebrity status.
Bristol, meanwhile, made the semifinals of Dancing With the Stars in the fall of 2011 (she was eliminated in week four of the all-star season in 2012) and starred in one season of her own Lifetime reality show, Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp, in summer 2012.
"I failed as a mom because I picked the worst possible candidate in the world that I could have been dating and got pregnant with," Bristol lamented on her show.
She moved to Arizona and concentrated on activism and blogging, her Patheos Family site a place to voice her conservative views on family-planning (she advocated abstinence) and other hot topics. In June 2015 she revealed in the most self-defeating announcement ever that she was pregnant with her second child; and gave birth to daughter Sailor in December. Bristol's ex-fiancé Dakota Meyer shared a photo of the baby girl upon her arrival as well.
And throughout all the milestones, Bristol and Levi have battled each other in court.
Bristol first filed for full legal and physical custody in November 2009, not using their real names in court documents in an attempt to keep the proceedings a secret; a judge later agreed with Johnston's side that the case should be allowed to play out publicly.
In March 2010, Levi was ordered to pay Bristol more than $21,000 in back child support, dating back to Tripp's birth. Bristol was also requesting an additional $1,750 a month, claiming Levi had earned at least $105,000 from all of his media appearances. His camp insisted his income was far more "erratic" than that.
"Bristol is hopeful that Levi will obtain work in 2010," her attorney said in a statement, adding that his client was encouraged by Levi's acknowledgement of "his obligation to pay child support and that he acknowledged paying $4,400 in the last 14 months." Moreover, "Bristol expects to mediate a child visitation schedule with Levi that balances Tripp's need to be with his father with Levi's need to travel and seek work."
This arrangement stuck for awhile, a notice of pending dismissal in the dormant case being filed in Alaska in July 2012; but in November 2013, Levi filed for joint custody of Tripp, and the fun started all over again.
In August 2014, clarifying why Bristol's income was listed as $0 in one of Levi's court filings, her lawyer explained to E! News: "Bristol makes a good living, albeit not as much as when she had a more public profile. Because she has greater than 70 percent physical custody, her income is not used in the calculation of child support. The motion for past due support was not filed because Bristol is broke, it was filed because the parties are moving toward resolution. Part of the resolution of any custody case requires that past child support obligations and arrearages must be appropriately calculated."
Fast-forward to today, to Levi deleting his Facebook post about finally scoring a victory in their now 7-year-long battle over money and time with Tripp. Calls to his manager and Bristol's attorney have not yet been returned.