Book Review: Double Down

In light of Jason Chaffetz saying on MSNBC that he believes that Mitt Romney will run again in 2016 and win, I thought now would be a good time to post my review of Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s sequel to Game Change.

While Game Change had all the drama of Hillary v. Barack, the John Edwards sideshow, and Sarah Palin’s instant fame, the 2012 election wasn’t as dramatic. Incumbency elections are rarely as exciting as one where both parties are picking a new candidate. If you never read Game Change, it’s worth going back to. Forget the HBO movie. Well-acted though it may have been, it only told one-fifth of the story, and it was the fifth that would embarass Republicans the most. HBO plans to make a movie about this too, and I’m sure it’ll wind up being The Michelle Bachmann Story.

Double Down gets into the heads of every candidate, every pollster, every staffer from both campaigns, to an unbelievable degree. In fact, I’d say this one strains credulity more than once. One example: they quote Mitt Romney as saying “s–tburger.” Somehow I just can’t see him saying that.

The main reason though that I would emphasize this can’t just taken as face value is the fact they never get into a single reporter’s head. After all, Halperin and Heilemann are reporters. They’d never do anything to disparage or impugn a colleague, even if it was called for. When the New York Times published Mitt Romney’s Detroit editorial, all motives are indicated as innocent when they give it the headline: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”  Uh-huh. Then when I check their acknowledgements, the only name of a hundred you could call right-of-center was Joe Scarborough.

I would have liked to have known what Candi Crowley was thinking when she decided to fact-check in the middle of a debate. Romneyites knew as soon as Crowley was announced as moderator she’d be bad for them, but they don’t say why. I’d like to know why the objective reporters fall so easily for spin.

Setting that aside, it paints a complete picture of Obama and Romney. Obama has his share of critics on his own side, and we can see why on the page. He doesn’t like the “game” of Washington, a.k.a. building relationships. We can also feel his incredulity of the freak-show of the Right. Some of the highlights:

– Plenty of people were excited for Jon Huntsman’s candidacy, until he came home from China and his campaign staff found him to be lazy and entitled. He was also thinking of running as a third party candidate before the New Hampshire primary. He looked around at Tea Party caucus attendees and would think “These are not my people.”

– Michelle Bachmann was thrilled by the Ames Straw Poll victory but felt like a loser after her Iowa defeat.

– Rick Perry suffered from insomnia and was exhausted the day of the debate where he could not remember the name of the third federal Department he wanted to eliminate.

– Newt Gingrich was furious at Fox News for their negative coverage of his candidacy. He viewed it as a betrayal, and he was so mad at Romney that he didn’t care if he made Mitt toxic enough to lose to Obama. Newt would have his revenge.

– Herman Cain was always seen by GOP inner circles as a joke, and no one believed his brief time atop the polls would last.

– While Mitt Romney and Chris Christie personally liked each other, it was Mitt’s staff Christie had a problem with.

– Romney had the worst luck. The storm during the GOP convention. Clint Eastwood changing his speech at the last second and taking almost twice the time they’d allotted him. Hurricane Sandy hitting the week before the election.

– Romney was so petrified to be seen as a flip-flopper that he “doubled down” on some statements or issues even if he didn’t really feel that way.

– When Mitt started actually getting positive press after the first debate, his press secretary said “So this is what it feels like to be a Democrat!” Very revealing statement.

– Obama was not a good debater, and after his first debate, the prepping for his second debate was looking like it’d go as badly as the first until his staffers played tough love with him, saying if he lost the second debate too, he’d lose the election.

– You can’t just laugh off smears and falsehoods from your opponent. You have to meet them head on and kill them. The GOP should have been more aggressive at fighting back against the “War on Women” mantra as soon as Howard Dean coined it. So much of this election seemed to come down to phrases, a.k.a. gaffes. Candidates speak thousands of words each day to so many different people, but we can’t possibly expect them to be real when their enemies are just waiting for the right phrase to exploit. “47%” “Cling to their guns and their religion.” “Gifts.”

Personally I think Romney would have been a better president than Obama, and this book did nothing to dissuade me from that. But I also think after 2008 and 2012, he wouldn’t want to run again. He had his chance, and he’d love to help pick the next candidate, but it won’t be him.

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