Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Double Down

Double Down
From Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann:
Open quote 

On election night, when Mitt called the president to concede, he had congratulated Obama for his side's turnout efforts -- specifically expressing his own team's astonishment at the numbers in Cleveland and Milwaukee, where African American participation was off the charts. When Obama related Romney's comment to Axelrod, Messina, and Plouffe, they all had the same bemused reaction. What Boston was saying, in effect, was, Holy cow, where did all these mysterious minorities come from?"

"Big Boy [Chris Christie]'s sense of where the real fault lay was crystal clear: with the clowns on Commercial Street. On the phone with Ryan two days after the election, Christie listened while Fishconsin [Ryan] talked about how he, too, had been certain that he and Mitt were headed for the White House. 'On election morning,' Ryan said, 'they told me and my wife we were going to win.' 'Well, that just shows how shitty they were,' Christie harrumphed."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: B-

The title "Double Down" applies to both candidates.

For Romney, it signifies his decision to stick to the strict conservative positions he took in the GOP primary races. In the 2012 general election, when many expected him to move to the center, he doubled down on those positions, perhaps because he had come to truly believe them, perhaps because he would lose the conservative base if he sought to distance himself from them in any fashion.

Obama had no possibility of re-inventing himself even if he had wanted to. He had to defend his record. In the end, the title signifies the willingness of the electorate, who entrusted the presidency to Obama in 2008, to double down and give Obama another term in 2012.

This account of the 2012 election is full of inside anecdotes, candidates talking to their advisers, advisers talking to each other, wives talking to candidates and advisers. This is the opposite of data journalism. It's not even punditry, where journalists use inside information to draw grand conclusions. It's more like a gossip sheet, content with showing what was going on behind the curtains to fill in the context to what was happening on stage. In that it succeeds very well.

The two quotes above, from after the presidential election of 2012, summarize what went wrong with Mitt Romney's campaign.

Chris Christie points out the inability of the Romney campaign to get even the polling right. There were dozens of polls available in the last days of the campaign, national polls and battleground state polls. Virtually all of them were breaking Barack Obama's way. Yet the Romney campaign deluded itself into believing it was winning as late as the night of the election itself.

Romney's call to Obama reveals a blindness on the part of the losing candidate himself to see a large and growing part of the electorate, not only African-Americans, but Hispanics, women, youth, and other components of the Obama coalition. Maybe that explains why he deluded himself to believe he was winning.

There's plenty more here about what went wrong for Romney, as well as what went wrong for Obama, too. Most notably, after Romney won the first presidential debate, the Obama team was in a near panic when Obama didn't seem to be improving in the preparations for the second debate. An "intervention" was held. Obama's self reflection, reported in this book, reveals a side of the man he never lets show in public. He suffered from self doubt. There may be no grand conclusion to draw from that, but it does make for fascinating reading. And that's what "Double Down" is in the end, a good bit of storytelling. A must read for political junkies.

The ebook in Kindle format is available for free from the Richardson Public Library.

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