Posted by: Joe Eds | February 4, 2010

Game Change

I just finished reading it. This new book from Time contributor Mark Halperin and New York Magazine writer John Heilemann. Both of them are about as big a members of the MSM as you can find. You’ll notice them on CNN or MSNBC or ABC News on any given week. They both have covered campaigns for two decades. Hence, why this book is maybe more true than “truthy” because they clearly got the dish from the aides, directors, supporters and those close to the candidates. If you love politics, particularly the main characters in the 2008 presidential race, you’ll dive into this book head first. Back-biting, in-fighting, shouting matches, infidelities galore (I was half expecting it to be revealed that Hillary and Barack hooked up one night) and lots of F-bombs. No Jed Bartlet’s in this bunch.

The criticism aimed at the authors, thus far, is that this book is mostly “gossip-y”. Hearsay from staffers, and in some cases ex-staffers, no real dissection of each candidate’s policy just how each one decided to run for President and how he/she handled the pressure. I partly agree. But early on this book defines itself as what it is like to be in the room with these candidates. So if it’s policy discussions you seek, I’d look elsewhere. If it’s campaign melodrama, antics and head games, enjoy. The Obama/Clinton race, with some Edwards in there too, makes up most of it. The first 2/3rds to be precise. Obama / McCain general election race doesn’t take up nearly as much space. In fact, the closing pages deals with Clinton accepting Obama’s offer as Secretary of State which essentially ended a rivalry and made for the beginning of a new team.

Much of the book deals with Hillary and Bill and how they managed to blow their 20-point national lead with a month left in the race. Mostly due to lack of planning and having a team that was constantly at odds and bickering with each other. Oddly the book does empathize with her main problem: People assumed her husband would get in trouble before the general election, especially the reporters and especially the other sitting Democratic Senators. Though the book never reveals this, it is safe to assume much of the “inside the Clinton’s room” sources are from Patti Solis Doyle, a long-time Hillary Clinton aide who was picked as her campaign manager. The first time a Latina woman has been chosen for that job, and was replaced after Hillary’s third place Iowa Caucus finish. They’ve barely spoken since. One can assume Solis Doyle was eager to get some things off her chest.

The pages on Sarah Palin are what you’d already expect. Very, very unqualified and unprepared for what was asked of her. She went from obscurity to one of the most famous people in America in a matter of hours. There is of course the jaw-dropping line when she’s asked after the interview process why she seems so collected about the prospects of her being in the White House. “It’s God’s plan,” she says.

And the overall conclusion, if there is one to be drawn, is the the cool guy won. Not cool as in The Fonz. Cool as in the cool customer. The one that didn’t blow up at the staff or worried daily about polls. The one guy who kept his composure throughout won the big title at the end. One of the more revealing scenes is when McCain and Obama met at the White House with George W. Bush and congressional leaders during the financial meltdown, and after introductions Obama clearly began managing the meeting taking questions, bouncing off ideas while McCain sat silently in the corner.

Other fun (yes, kind of gossip-y) tidbits:

  • The Clinton Campaign’s inner- most-inner circle investigated Bill’s post-Presidency social life and concluded he was having an affair.
  • Many of the top Dem Senators wanted Obama to run against Hillary. And the notion that he was “the outsider candidate” of his party was his own campaign’s way of making him look like the underdog.
  • Michelle Obama was the most vocal about Barack not running for President initially, and the most vocal about him not picking Hillary as VP.
  • After a meeting in her Senate office in 2005, Barack Obama gave Hillary a framed photo of his family which remained hanging in her office until the day she left to become Secretary of State.
  • The individual who is described as being the most polar opposite of their public image is Elizabeth Edwards. The chapters about his campaign and their marriage are the most devastating.
  • The Edwards’ camp nickname for their boss was “The Ego Monster”
  • The relationship between Cindy and John McCain is almost as volatile as the Edwards’. The book suggests, but does not conclude definitively, that both were having an affair before the campaign began.
  • Hillary very seriously looked into running in the 2004 election. The authors predict had she jumped in at the last minute in the 2003 primary she would have won the nomination and likely beaten Bush. The one person in Hillary’s inner-circle who told her not to run was Chelsea.
  • For all of the unflattering moments of Hillary in this book, one steady characteristic is her consistent concern about her daughter’s well-being.
  • All of the GOP primary candidates hated Mitt Romney.
  • John McCain’s initial pick for VP was Joe Lieberman. Karl Rove called McCain personally and informed him how disastrous that would be for the Republican Party.
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