Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: 'Double Down -- Game Change 2012' (Part 1 of 2)

by Sunnyjane

If you liked Game Change, the book on the 2008 election by Halperin and Heilemann, you'll also like the 2012 edition on the campaign between President Barack Obama and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.  And if you're a political junky who wants to see the jaw-dropping backstage machinations of a presidential campaign, you're going to love this book.  I certainly did.

As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote:  [It is] a joyous romp through the seedy underbelly of presidential campaigning.  ... It’s also a marvel of reporting. Any time three staff members met in a room to badmouth a colleague or a candidate, admitted to a moment of stress or self-doubt, ... John Heilemann and Mark Halperin appear to have been sitting in the corner, scribbling notes.

While Charles Pierce and Michael Kinsley didn't care much for the book -- or Mark Halperin, it seems -- the reports of Double Down's having been called supermarket tabloid trash is based on the insistence from Jon Huntsman, Sr. that he was not Harry Reid's source on the Romney didn't pay any taxes for ten years issue.

West Wing Woes
I wonder why nobody told me anything about having to fight pirates.

The President and his staff were not exactly doing the Happy Dance at the beginning of the 2012 general election cycle -- which started in 2011, of course.  And, despite her personal high approval ratings, the First Lady wasn't happy, either.  

Chicago, which is what the campaign headquarters was called because it couldn't be run from the White House, wanted Michelle Obama to be active in the 2010 midterms and in the 2012 general elections.  She agreed in 2010, reluctantly, because she didn't want to burn through her likability capital on congressional races and she hated being away from her girls over night.  The campaign accommodated her restrictions.  But she was more than willing in 2012 to help MY GUY, as she called the President, and raised ten million dollars in one quarter of the campaign.  She proved to be a real buck-raker, and Chicago was thrilled.  The First Lady was irritated with the President's staff, and didn't mind telling them about it.

The President wasn't pleased with his West Wing staff, either, and he did something about it.  Rahm Emanuel -- who easily succeeded in pissing off everybody -- had already left to run for mayor of Chicago.  David Axelrod (disheveled and disorganized) and Robert Gibbs (who seemed to be quite skilled at using the word fuck as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, etc.)  were sent to campaign HQ.  Bill Daley became White House Chief of Staff, which didn't turn out very well, and he was replaced by Jack Lew.  Lots of screaming, finger-pointing, and shakeups going on.

But President Obama was also unhappy with himself and his inability to deal with an obnoxious House of Representatives.  He had had to spend his time on issues ranging from birtherism to Osama bin Laden to rescuing two people from Somali pirates.  He thought his messaging was ineffective and sloppy.  In addition, he had a leaker on his staff, which really upset him.  

By May of 2012, he had his Bulworth Moment -- deciding that he was going to stop paying attention to campaign focus groups and tell the American people what he proposed and why.

That decision probably gave him a second term.

And Who Shall Lead Them?

Long before the Republican primary debates actually began in January 2012, the field was wide open  -- I counted as many as fifteen.  As had been said by many, Mitt Romney started campaigning for 2012 right after he lost the 2008 candidacy to John McCain.  But the establishment GOP did not want Romney -- they detested him -- and a bunch of others tried, in vain, to get each other to run.  Perhaps Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, was the most prescient when he predicted that if Romney ran, his weaknesses would attract a large, unruly field that would be bad for the party. 

Frankly, I think this group even exceeded Barbour's most dire predictions.

Is Rick Perry late again?  Oops!

Halperin and Heilemann share a lot of interesting insights into the personalities and foibles of the final 2012 Hopefuls, except for Ron Paul; there was little said about him.   So here are just a few examples of the less-than-stellar lineup of the Hopeless to become the 2012 Republican candidate for president.

I have never had sex with that woman!  Those women!  I have never had sex with...anybody!

Herman Cain:  Best known for his 8.7 tax program.  Well, Herman didn't think it would suit for him to go around yelling 8.7-8.7-8.7, so he told his staff, Goddammit, we're rounding it up to 9-9-9!   He was, to say the least, one of the most unqualified of the Eight-Left-Standing bunch, and after persistent allegations (which he denied) about sexual misconduct, he quit the race.

And getting there is half the fun!

Michele Bachmann:  Shedding staff like yesterday's underwear, Bachmann gaffed her way through the primaries.  The stories about her migraine headaches must have brought on more: her staff once found her in a fetal position in her hotel room and had to take fast and dramatic medical steps to ease her pain.  She quit in January 2012, after coming in a dismal fourth in the Iowa caucuses.  Thus, the I'm such a loser! quote that has been reported recently.

Hmmm...I'll hit Mitt with my new word: Obamneycare.   It'll be a winner!
Tim Pawlenty:  According to the book, the former governor of Minnesota and the current Congresswoman (Bachmann) from that state ...shared a reverent evangelical faith and a biting distaste for each other.  (Bachmann considered Pawlenty a weak-kneed fraud; he disparaged her as "dangerous" and "insane.")  Pawlenty may well be a weak-kneed fraud, but he's certainly correct on his assessment of Bachmann.  In an effort to tie Obamacare and Romney's Massachusetts health care law, he had coined the word Obamneycare in a television interview.  However, when asked by the moderator during the June 13, 2011 debate why he had used the term, he backed off and refused to take the opportunity to slam his rival.  He resigned from the race the next day.  OK, I guess Michele is right: Pawlenty is weak-kneed.

Giggle, chuckle, tee hee: Whee doggies!  Pain medications are FUN!

Rick Perry:  The Texas governor's debate missteps, his questionable racial history, claims that he is gay, his evangelical background, and his unrepentant assertion that Social Security is a Ponzi  scheme are all well-known fodder on which the media chewed with delight.  However, what was not well known -- even to his staff -- was the seriousness of his back  surgery in July 2011.  The persistent pain and his regular bouts of insomnia, coupled with less than sterling debate performances, led him to resign from the race in January 2012. 

Noooo, I don't want to hear about your wife!  MY wife is the only one who can have an abortion!

Rick SantorumNot much new on Saint Santorum.  Try as he might, Rick could not stay away from harping on far-right, evangelical Christiansta social issues.  Former Nebraska governor Rob Kerrey was heard to say, Santorum: that's Latin for asshole.

I don't know...I guess...let me see...maybe.

Jon Huntsman:  The one issue I found most fascinating was -- to me, anyhow -- brand new.  It involves the ten-year  animosity between Mitt Romney and fellow-Mormon Jon Huntsman, Jr.  -- who incredibly, had never met before 2002.  Both wanted to be The Rescuer of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; Mitt got the job, and both Huntsman, Jr. and Huntsman, Sr. were not at all happy.

Then, in 2008 when Romney was running to become the GOP nominee, Huntsman assured him he would endorse him, then turned around and endorsed McCain.  Romney was furious.  But Huntsman wanted badly to be Secretary of State and doubted that Romney would appoint a fellow Mormon to that position; thus, he pinned his hopes on John McCain.

Huntsman is a complicated fellow, prone to dark spells and with a dicey relationship with his father.  At times, it seemed to his staff that he didn't really want to run for president -- he just sort of wanted to be president.  I have the distinct feeling that Double Down reveals just a glimmer into the murky world of who Jon Huntsman really is.

And the Candidate is...


End Note

Part 2 of this post will cover the presidential campaign and debates between the two candidates, as well as Romney's careful search for a vice presidential nominee.  That process  turned out to be a WHOA! type of thing.

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