The 2012 US Presidential Election, was, in the end, won quite comfortably by Barack Obama. He took 26 out of 50 States but 332 out of 538 Electoral College votes. It had, to the outside eye, little of the drama of 2008. If you were a follower of Nate Silver and his uncannily accurate mathematical poll modelling prognostications, you would, as a Democrat, have been quietly confident of an Obama win going back for months. But drama and politics go hand-in-hand. ‘Double Down – The Explosive Inside’ account of the 2012 Presidential is Election’ is Mark Halperin’s and John Heilemann’s follow up to ‘Race of a Lifetime’ and they definitely see Presidential Elections as drama. Their latest offering again treats electoral politics as part horse-race, part blood sport rather than a wonk treatise. It makes for some good reading.
What new can be said about Mitt Romney? A man hoisted on his own petards, his stream of ‘Richie Rich’ gaffes were a gift for the Democrats and allowed them to paint him as an out of touch and heartless millionaire. Some, if not all of this, may be true; in something akin to a Left Wing Conspiracy theory, the authors ‘credit’ Romney with consorting with Billionaires, most notably Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers. He recklessly ‘doubled-down’ in picking Paul Ryan as Veep Nominee, a man even further to the economic right than the Millionaire Mormon himself. Mitch, one has to be believe, was never really cut out to be President and only got the Republican nomination in the first place because the field was so weak.
The GOP Primaries were a prime example of how far off centre the Republican Party has gone even since 2008. As documented by Halperin and Heilemann, all of the rival candidates were lacking in the right stuff. Rick Santorum, at one stage, raised contraception as an national election issue. The Tea Party loved his red-meat policies as they did those of Michelle Bachmann – but neither had the political stamina or eventually the money to stay the course. Newt Gingrich was shown up as the dingbat loco crazy person that he is and John Huntsman as a disengaged dilettante. Herman Cain briefly rose and fell. The authors appear not to have had any access to Ron Paul, who they barely mention at all. Chris Christie, in print like in life, looms large but is ultimately rejected as a running mate after an issue raising background check.
Where did this leave the incumbent President? He hated fundraising with ‘the plutocrats’. His mojo wasn’t always apparent; was the analytical, serial litigator ‘up for it’? Of course he was, but in the run up to and during the first debate, in which Obama tanked, there was doubt amongst his team. This nearly turned into panic after a disastrous performance but their man dug deep reclaimed all his lost ground in the second and third debates.
There’s some excellent stuff on the higher profile Team Obama members such as Joe Biden and Bill Clinton. The President seems to have spent a lot of his time worrying just what would Joe say next. But Biden more than made an excellent team player and set himself up for a possible 2016 run. As for Bill Clinton? Obama and he fell out badly in the 08 campaign but Bill became the President’s greatest asset, delivering what was possibly his greatest speech at the Democrats convention, becoming cheer leader in chief for a man he once bitterly dismissed. Politics is a funny old game and who’d have thought that Barack and Bill would become as close to friends as you get in politics? Hilary’s loyalty to and friendship with the President had made Obama warm to her husband – the 2012 campaign was the meeting of minds of two of the most charismatic Commanders in Chief since Kennedy.
Most of the book is in a deep background or off the record style and you have to wonder about the level of leaking and co-operation the authors got from their sources; what’s in it for them blabbing to journalists? Perhaps the hope of a good word down the line when they themselves might run for Office or the need to get their spoke into the first draft of history. Whatever the reason., the authors appear to have no shortage of sources willing to spill the beans for them.
For politics to matter, we need it to be exciting, to grip us. But, as noted elsewhere, to have what might purport to be a definitive account of the 2012 Election and not mention Nate Silver once seems churlish or just plain wrong. Reporters need a race, we enjoy it but what’s real is real and should not be replaced by manufactured reality. Having said that, Halperin and Heilemann provide a scoopy, inside baseball account that will be difficult to match. As political reportage goes, it is very very good and if not quite a ‘game changer’, ‘Double Down’ is well worth a gamble.
‘Double Down – The Explosive Inside Account of the 2012 Presidential Election’ by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, WH Allen, £20