Today, I'm reviewing Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. You probably saw their 2010 book Game Change in stores when first came out - seriously, it was everywhere - or you may have caught the (seriously excellent) HBO movie starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin.
They're following up that book with Double Down: Game Change 2012, an in-depth look at the 2012 elections. Read on for the review!
Hardcover, 476 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Penguin Press HC, The
Format read: Hardcover (owned)
In Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann take the reader into back rooms and closed-door meetings, laying bare the secret history of the 2012 campaign for a panoramic account of an election that was as hard fought as it was lastingly consequential.
Things that worked:
Unlike Collision 2012 or The Center Holds, Double Down invests a significant portion of its efforts on the 2012 GOP primaries.
Halperin and Heilemann's focus on the primaries serves to emphasizes the wide field that faced President Obama, but also serves to underscore the often-negative politics that defined the bulk of the election season. There's tacit analysis of the fact that as prospective candidates faced off in a race to the far-right to win the votes of GOP primary voters, they were forced to take positions that would come back to haunt all candidates, but especially Mitt Romney, as he advanced to the general election.
OFA’s spending schedule, or the financial factor:
While I think the all Americans generally recognize that the 2012 election cycle was one of the most expensive in history, Halperin and Heilemann do a fantastic job of delving into the logistics and specifics of the financing behind the Obama For American (OFA) campaign.
Halperin and Heilemann strongly emphasize that the OFA campaign feared that it would be outspent by the weight of Mitt Romney's campaign and GOP-aligned Super PACs, so OFA took the unprecedented (and controversial) course of spending the bulk of their finances earlier on in the election cycle.
Both the decision, and Halperin and Heilemann's explanation of it, will likely be studied for many years, especially by campaign advisors and staff. Expect the Obama 2012 playbook to pop up a lot throughout the campaigns of this decade, for better and for worse.
The Christie Angle:
Up until the last couple of weeks, I might have argued that the sections on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were obvious and even transitory. However, in light of the recent ‘bridge-gate’ scandal, they seem extremely prescient.
No one knows whether Christie is finished, or whether he can recover. That remains to be decided by the media and the public at large. However, this scandal reinforces a great many of the critiques that Halperin and Heilemann make of him in Double Down: namely his attitude, aggressiveness and lack of discipline.
I would be interested in seeing how Christie handles the upcoming weeks, and how it compares to the final criticisms that Halperin and Heilemann make of him in the book.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
Without a doubt, Double Down is the most entertaining of the three 2012 election books published within the last year. This is due largely to its highly accessible writing style, which makes the book relatable and frankly, easy to read. It is chalk-full of memorable moments, including Barack Obama’s apparent crisis of confidence in the weeks after the Denver Debate debacle.
However, the easy accessibility is also a double-edged sword. As the reader, we become privy to the inner workings of all of these campaigns, which show the good, the bad and the ugly of campaign work - all of which may ultimately make us question just whom we've elected to the highest offices in the land.
At the end of the day, I would argue that the full-blown access can make you look upon politics with a negative eye, which may or may not be a bad thing in accordance to your own political beliefs.
Most impressively, the candidates and advisors were portrayed in a far more complimentary (or perhaps earnest) light than in 2008. While no one fully escapes Heilemann and Halperin's scrutiny, you never forget the major players are human. Flawed yes, but still human.
Double Down may come across as the bodice-ripper of election stories, but as I continue my work in local politics, it often reads far too close for comfort. Many of these crazy characters resemble real-world figures because they simply are real-world persons. No one ever said American politics is a perfect affair, but what a fun, wild ride it can be.
About the authors:
Mark Halperin is editor-at-large and senior political analyst for Time, founding editor of The Page on time.com, and former political director of ABC News.
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