Thursday, January 28, 2010

Game Change

With apologies, I know I won't be able to resist sharing all the juicy bits from this book, so thought I'd start a separate place to put them. I read the first two chapters last night and was in serious danger of reading it through to the end. Fascinating!


  1. For example, that comment by Reid was in context of when he called Obama to his office. Obama thought he was going to be chewed out for some mistake. Instead, Reid says it's clear Obama isn't happy in the Senate, doesn't have the patience etc. to be a "Senate lifer." And he thinks Obama has what it takes to run for president. Even Schumer was willing to support him behind the scenes.

    Reid and many others were very worried that Clinton couldn't win. They were afraid she would divide the country even more starkly than it already was, but they were even more concerned about the republicans having all they needed to stop her in Bill Clinton's philandering. Talk about a 200 pound albatross.....

  2. They also reveal Clinton's thinking about running in 2004. She almost did, but was afraid that she would be accused of putting ambition before her commitment to being in the Senate. From the way the authors lay it out, it appears she had a really good shot at winning that year. How different it all would have been.....

    I also didn't know that Clinton had been a huge supporter of Obama -- raising money for him etc. -- and mentored him in the Senate. They had a great relationship.

  3. There is a little subtext here, too, which is how much they feared Howard Dean who the power brokers believed was "too hot, too left, and too weak" to be elected.

    Edwards they all dismissed as an empty suit.

  4. Fire away, av. Sounds like it is not all dirty laundry, but juicy insider pieces as well.

  5. Oh, good, I'm glad you're interested.

    I think the media picked up the trash talk, sometimes out of context, like the Reid quip. I'm sure that came up after the authors learned about Reid calling Obama to his office (sounds like this story came directly from Obama from the way it's told). After hearing that story the authors probably called up Reid and asked him something like ... were you _serious_?

    But from the sounds of it the democrats didn't feel like they had a solid candidate, because they worried about Clinton's ability to successfully run -- mostly because of Bill. The authors don't editorialize or make broad assumptions (at least so far) but my reading is that the leading democrats (like Reid and Schumer) were looking around and thought Obama might be the best chance they had.

    In any event, these are both respected journalists. And it looks like they really got the inside story of what happened and, in some cases, why.

    Some of this was reported in real time since they both covered the election. And then they conducted follow up interviews with everyone. So far it's really interesting.

    I'll make a daily entry ... or three. I love this stuff. I'm hopeless.

  6. I'm interested in your posts about this book. I don't know that I will ever read it, but perhaps it's better than what I'd judged it to be on the basis of the way the media exploited it.

  7. It's a breezy enough book, so it's easy to pull tidbits out, but they are (so far) doing a great job of covering the election in detail -- all the back stories and back biting (particularly in Clinton's campaign) and strategies that are part of a campaign. Including how everyone hates Mark Penn, whom they figure will not change course because he doesn't ever want to admit he might be wrong. I can't stop reading.

    Michelle Obama comes across as an amazing realist -- I like her more than ever. And Obama appears to be just like I envisioned him to be. Bored and even sulky when he has to be just the candidate, out shaking hands, but thoroughly engaged if he can tackle the big policy issues in depth. Then he reengages.

    The positioning of the Clinton and Obama campaigns prior to Iowa is absolutely fascinating to read about -- and the behind the scenes support for Obama in the Senate is fascinating.

    No one can talk to him or support him publicly for fear of enraging the Clintons. At one point Chuck Schumer sends a message to Obama via Claire McCaskill, who became the Senate's messenger since she was already on the outs with the Clintons, that Obama had to take a 2x4 to Clinton. If he wasn't willing to do that, he wasn't tough enough to win according to Schumer.

    There's a great ending to the last chapter I just read, still before Iowa, where Obama begins to get past his disappointment in how the campaign is being run and to outline for himself the ideas he wants to bring to the campaign. He also notes that he has more election experience than Clinton, and plans to take her on policy issues. Plus, he feels like he hasn't reached out enough to women and African American votes. So he gets himself ready to engage her more directly in the next debate and agrees to a big interview with the New York Times. He's feeling confident again.

    Then the authors write in closing that he also had "an ally of convenience whose determination to sink Hillary was every bit as great as, and even more rabid than his own."

    End of Chapter

    Turn the Page


    I laughed out loud. Needless to say, I know who this chapter is going to be about.

  8. Another interesting story was how some of the Hollywood money that had always gone to the Clintons went instead to Obama because they thought Clinton had pardoned Marc Rich at the expense of Peltier.

    Sort of interesting to see how closely some of these big money folks follow the nitty gritty bits of public policy and actions.

    Maureen Dowd convinced one Hollywood mogul -- Geffen -- to talk to her about the Clintons, which was apparently explosive when it appeared. And thanks to the internet, here it is:

    In response, the Clinton team demanded that Obama return all of Geffen's money and made a huge deal about it, but Obama just shrugged -- they weren't his words. The strategists' protests apparently really backfired on them.

    Some of these big political stories I still remember, but this one I don't recall. I notice this was a "select" story and I didn't subscribe to that. So maybe I missed it at the time.

  9. The other thing that dogged her everywhere was her vote in support of the invasion of Iraq. Interesting to read how they tried to parse that vote. I remember that _very_ clearly.

  10. Geffen was apparently still upset with the Clintons over Peltier, so the story goes. Apparently, he had expected Clinton to pardon Peltier. Whatever the case, Geffen had long disengaged with the Clintons, and was one of the earliest big money supporters of Obama.

    Fascinating the Schumer didn't stand behind her, given they both represent New York.

  11. Funny reading the very mixed reviews at amazon for this book.

  12. Just took a quick look at the reviews. I haven't reached the republicans yet, so maybe it gets a bit juicier there. They had Sarah Palin and her family to work with after all. But so far, I have found it a fascinating read, and well worth my time. But I'm really interested in the strategies etc. You can guess at them at the time, but it's interesting to read about them in retrospect.

    John Edwards is almost tragic in his rise and fall. The day after the 2004 election he started planning his 2008 run.

    He appears to have really believed all that "poverty stuff," which his advisers let him have even though they knew that issue never gets you elected. He was a true populist to begin with, and really connected one on one with people (myself included) -- it was his wife who pushed him even more to the left.

    Also appears that Elizabeth Edwards has now read the book -- they have officially separated. That's all very sad.

  13. It is sad. I liked Edwards, but there was something "weak" about him, which I couldn't put a finger on.

  14. Speaking of weak, the other one who is fascinating in this book is Bill Clinton. He clearly has spoken at length to the authors.
    Mercurial might be a good description.

  15. Bill played such an odd role in the primaries. At times I felt he was (un)consciously sabotaging Hillary's campaign by some of the things he said. But, I think her downfall was the arrogance she projected. It struck me as though she felt she was entitled, and they both viewed Obama as an usurper in the early going. But, to their credit they gave Obama key support in the general election.

  16. The campaign did not want his involvement for fear he would overshadow her. But he clearly was enraged that Obama was able to come out of nowhere to challenge both of them.

    She did come across as aloof and not particularly interested in people -- which is true from the sounds of it. She apparently hated Iowa until the major paper endorsed her, and then she showed up with both Bill and Chelsea.

    But her albatross was that vote for the war. It meant she couldn't go to college campuses to get student support for fear of being booed. Very bad strategy early on -- my guess is that was a Penn strategy as well.

    Interesting how these things are done.

  17. Kerry managed to get around his vote on the Iraq War in the 2004 campaign largely because he was willing to admit he was wrong on the vote. Seems Hillary couldn't bring herself to make such an act of contrition.

    But, I think what really hurt her was a bad campaign team that couldn't bring itself to take Obama seriously until it was too late.

  18. Yeah, they write that after Edwards wrote his apology in the Washington Post -- "I was wrong" -- there was pressure for Clinton to do the same but that Penn argued it would cause her more harm than good. Would signal "squishiness" and that she's another cut and run democrat. She needed to project "strength, resolution, rough-and readiness" etc.

    You're right that they didn't take Obama serious to begin with. And when you read about the early debates and speeches, she does seem to be at the top of her game. And her numbers soared.

    But she really didn't take Iowa seriously. She didn't want to spend any time there. And when a memo went out suggesting she skip Iowa it was leaked (via someone in Rod Blagojevich's office), so she had to commit.

    I think her big loss there was an enormous shock, particularly since so much money had been spent and she received a major endorsement. But she didn't like Iowans and they didn't particularly like her apparently.

  19. The funny part was how the media treated NH as the great comeback for Hillary after losing Iowa. In that way, Iowa worked for her, because she should have won NH hands down. In the end, she barely squeaked out a victory after Obama closed the gap on her entirely and for a brief moment even led in the polls. I think they ended up splitting the delegates evenly with Edwards getting a handful. Not much of a victory.

  20. I just read about New Hampshire. She had been way ahead there and then was expected to lose there after Iowa. Clinton met with her campaign manager and the campaign manger recommended if she lost again, which was expected, that she drop out.

    That was right before the tearing up incident in the diner which many say helped her win there. And it appears to have been a genuine outpouring of emotion, which she did not want to show in the campaign.

    Bill seems of the verge of losing control at this point -- he went to Dartmouth to show them how campaigning was supposed to be done. When she wins, he appears to believe it's largely his doing. After that, there was no keeping him out of the campaign -- which was headed to Nevada (which he also took responsibility for winning because of his work at the Mirage -- Hillary wanted to skip it) and down to South Carolina.

    They both seemed to think that Obama, by drawing in so many new voters, was cheating in the caucus states.

  21. I'm nearing the end of the election. What a wild ride.

    I didn't think I was going to be all that interested in McCain's campaign, but they've made it interesting -- although it appears not nearly as many people were willing to talk in depth as those on the "D" side.

    My favorite comment so far in this section:

    McCain is down in the polls -- Obama could be up 12 or 15 points heading into their convention-- and the campaign is running out of time according to Steve Schmidt. Then they write:

    "Bill Clinton's going to give a great speech. Hillary's going to give a great speech. Obama's _definitely_ going to give a great speech, and even if he doesn't, the press will say he did. [!] So now we're down twenty heading in our convention. On the first night, we have Cheney and Bush; after that we could be down twenty-five. If we don't figure out something immediately to arrest Obama's lead, we're done."

    They tried uninviting Cheney (didn't work) and thought maybe Bush could address the convention by video conference from Africa.... But they needed more.

    They wanted their VP pick to be a huge "shock." McCain was going with Lieberman.

    The hurricane solved their problems with Bush/Cheney, but McCain's advisers thought there was a chance he wouldn't get Lieberman approved at the convention. People would walk out for sure, which sort of appealed to McCain, but as much as McCain wanted him, the polling said it wouldn't work. They'd lose too many republican votes and not gain enough independents to make it worth it. So McCain gave in.

    Thus, out of the blue, on the eve of the republican convention, McCain picked Sarah Palin. Wow!

  22. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton writes her speech, practices it, and then goes off to take a nap. She comes back to practice one last time and finds that it's totally different. What happened to my speech, she wants to know?

    "Your husband happened, her speechwriting team informed her. Bill had shown up with a pile of handwritten notes, ideas about how to restructure the speech to make it better. New lines, language, themes. The speechwriters had dutifully incorporated his edits."

    The speechwriters scramble to try to reconstruct the original. Bill comes back to try to help. "This was here, I added this, I like this, I like that, the former president said."

    Hillary Clinton has to drive to the convention center, still making edits in the back of the car and prepping to give the speech. "Then she walked onstage and knocked the ball clear into the upper deck."

  23. Interesting about Bill and Hillary. No wonder they became known as Billary. I imagine she was pretty pissed though.

    The "toughness" didn't realize emerge until Ohio and Texas. Her second great comeback? It seemed like Team Hillary had no strategy for after Super Tuesday, figuring all competition would be dead and buried by this point, but there was Obama not more than a 100 delegates behind.

    She drew her "line in the sand" in Texas, and still very nearly lost the primary despite being over 20 points ahead until Obama donned a ten-gallon hat and launched a major campaign in the state. As it was, he only lost the primary by 3 points and ultimately took home the major share of delegates after all the caucus votes were counted. Yet, it was chalked up as a Hillary "victory."

    He faced a similar uphill battle in Ohio, and might have pulled the state out if it hadn't been for that leaked memo regarding trade with Canada. That looked like a Mark Penn move all the way. One of the few bad slips on the part of Team Obama.

    But, Hillary had blown all of the February primaries, making only a last ditch effort in Wisconsin, which she lost badly after having held a polling lead there as well, so Ohio and Texas further added to her story as "The Comeback Kid."

    You begin to realize how much the media shapes the perception of a campaign. These were states Hillary should have won hands down, yet she had to borrow from herself to keep her campaign going after it looked like it was over after Wisconsin. But, there is nothing the media loves more than a "comeback story," so they played this one for all it was worth, prolonging an agonizing campaign that stretched out well into June, rather than admitting defeat.