Friday, August 22, 2014

Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

If you think you're going to read a book like this and come away with a better understanding of any candidate's policy on anything, you're mistaken. This is all political calculation with a big dose of gossip and some armchair psychoanalysis. Once you accept that, you can enjoy the ride.

This book lacks the fun factor of Game Change in part because the 2012 campaign wasn't nearly as much of a circus as the 2008 one. The Republican field was filled with unstable lunatics (calling the candidacy for Romney early on was easy) but, obviously, the Democrat's nominee was known from the get-go. And while the Obamans may have been as dysfunctional as any political operation, that's just not the same thing as John Edwards trying to get past his own mistakes and Hillary Clinton trying to overcome her reputation (and establishment sexism). On the GOP side, while Bachmann,Gingrich, Cain and Perry provided plenty of amusing and cringe-worthy episodes, they were never nearly as important as the star of 2008's GOP debacle, Sarah Palin. Oddly, there was almost nothing about Ron Paul, arguably the wackiest of all of the candidates.

People who watched the Republican presidential field closely might be surprised by how many, well, sane and sagacious characters there were: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush most prominent among them. All of them had reasons to stay out of the race and away from the national stage, but they saw pretty clearly on that Mitt was a weak candidate who would create a vacuum that would invite a freak show.

The candidate that many thought had the best chance: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Although he flirted with the idea for a few weeks, ultimately he decided that his bona fides weren't strong enough. Once he made his decision to stay out, putting his clout behind Mitt was the obvious choice. While many thought he would make a strong candidate for VP, the vetting process dashed that notion pretty decisively. Suggestion: don't bet on Christie in 2016 (even if he clears BridgeGate). Who else will you probably not see again? Jon Huntsman, the ostensibly reasonable and moderate candidate who turned out to be not nearly as wealthy or principled as his public image led observers to believe.

The story presented here is that Romney lost because he refused to apologize even when he knew he had made a mistake and because he was so desperate to keep the conservative base that he wouldn't take on obviously offensive positions that he didn't agree with (e.g., Rush Limbaugh's insults to Sandra Fluke). While I agree that these were mistakes, I think it's odd that they didn't speak to the other obvious observation about the Romney candidacy: he lied and frequently, and his statements such as the infamous 47 Percent remark highlighted the electorate's worst fears that he was a plutocrat who didn't understand middle- or lower-economic-classes. (His team's explanations for why they lost only seemed to confirm those fears.)

Is that a lot of Romney? Yes- and perhaps it's even clearer why the book lacked the fun factor of Game Change.

Recommended for political news junkies who aren't interested in policy.

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