Review: Book looks behind the scenes of 2012 race

"Double Down: Game Change 2012" (The Penguin Press), by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
This book cover image released by The Penguin Press shows "Double Down: Game Change 2012," by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

For political junkies missing the drama of presidential election years, a new book on the 2012 race — exhaustive and replete with juicy details — may tide you over.

"Double Down" by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann is a follow-up to "Game Change," their much-discussed account of the 2008 election that was adapted into an HBO movie. "Double Down" follows the same formula: sharp writing and intriguing behind-the-scenes nuggets that are sure to get tongues wagging. Because their sources spoke on deep background, it's difficult to assess how accurate the anecdotes are, but overall they generally seem consistent with the candidates, the players around them and how the race played out.

It's hard to miss the irony of a scene where President Barack Obama tells a group of aides and political operatives that he needs to be able to trust them and trust that what he says will stay in the room. Clearly that didn't happen, and the authors report a list of his first-term regrets/second-term goals: climate change, immigration reform, poverty, Israel-Palestine, Guantanamo Bay and gay marriage.

The bipartisan penchant for dropping f-bombs is striking, as is the degree of infighting in the various campaigns. Also remarkable is revisiting the fates of the half-dozen Republican candidates who had brief moments in the spotlight and at the top of the polls, only to come crashing down. The authors note that Newt Gingrich drew a crowd of 6,000 in Naples, Fla., in mid-January, when he was on a roll during the debates; in Orlando less than two weeks later, the voters who turned up to hear him speak at an event numbered a mere 42.

The stories behind GOP nominee Mitt Romney's gaffes are intriguing. His infamous 47 percent comment at a fundraiser — where he appeared to say that almost half the electorate is dependent on government aid — came as he was on a "ceaseless dash for cash," the authors write, that left him exhausted. His off-the-cuff comment that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs" preceded a speech that was apparently edited until the last minute, leaving no time for a run-through. A British-born Obama staffer reading an NBC News transcript of an interview with Romney noticed the newsworthiness of his appearing to question how ready London was to host the Olympics and shipped it to friends in the British press.

The book also offers a startling contrast between the two candidates' wives. Ann Romney, when commentators were pummeling Romney for his 47 percent comment, said in a media appearance: "Stop it — this is hard." Michelle Obama, when informed that press secretary Robert Gibbs had — in a heated argument with adviser Valerie Jarrett — yelled an obscenity in reference to the first lady, reportedly reacted with: "Oh, you know Robert, he says things."

The cutesy names the authors give politicians' inner circles — "panic struck the Bachmannsphere," ''nowhere was the alarm greater than in Bushworld," ''Perry and Perryville were melting down" — gets mighty tiring. Quibble aside, "Double Down" is a fun read, replete with cracks like: "For anyone familiar with the first lady, her emergence as a top-drawer buck-raker would have once seemed as likely as (Joe) Biden moonlighting as a mime." If that got a chuckle out of you, you'll enjoy the book.

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