Mitt Stains

I enjoyed the 2010 book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, despite a title so needlessly lengthy as to be laughable. Seriously, authors. Enough with the Post-Colon explications. The book was co-written by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, and was a fascinating, inside look at the 2008 election. It was full of such insight and - let's just admit it - juicy gossip about both the Democratic and Republican primaries, and the final showdown between Obama and McCain.

So obviously, I was up for another ride on the roller coaster that is American politics with their 2013 follow-up, Double Down: Game Change 2012. The 2012 presidential election was an interesting one, but for much different reasons than 2008's. I was looking forward to diving into what was driving decisions behind the scenes, and while Double Down did an excellent job of summing up the events and the snafus that comprised the big moments of the election, it couldn't quite capture the same lightning.

Some of that is naturally down to the players in the game. 2008 had the downfall of John Edwards and the walking hot mess that is Sarah Palin. There's just nothing that can be said to make Herman Cain and John Huntsman as intriguing as them. They're not insane enough. So we're left with chapters about Obama's mood swings and Mitt Romney's strained relationship with the Republican party he represents, all of which is interesting, but not as dramatic. The focus on the rest of the clown car that made up the Republican primary (Bachmann, Santorum, Perry, etc.) is entertaining, but pretty brief.

There's still plenty to like in this book. If there's one thing it does well, it's humanize Mitt Romney, which the media at the time of the election had real trouble doing, with no help from the candidate himself. I'm glad he's not president, but he's not an awful human being, and it's important to realize that in our increasingly divisive politics. That said, the book does not shy away from his many mistakes, from his inability to relate to the middle class to his lurches to the far right and back in an effort to appeal to as many voters as possible. The 47% comment that almost single-handedly sunk his nomination is given curiously little time, given what a bombshell it was. Still, I appreciated the authors' efforts to get into issues that had a lot of meat on them, like the handling of the auto industry bailout and the vagaries of the national conventions (thanks to Clint Eastwood).

I haven't mentioned the Obama sections of the book, and that's because they're pretty sedate. Obama is a clear-headed, no-drama kind of guy, and while that makes him an effective president (in my opinion, anyway), it doesn't make for thrilling reporting. Heilemann and Halperin do their best to make his disappointing performance in the first debate seem like an earth-shaking threat to his candidacy, but hindsight isn't the only thing pushing back against that image.

Now we're getting into the next presidential election cycle. What kinds of shocks and gaffes and backroom deals await us in this next year and a half? I guess we'll have to meet back here in 2017 to read all about it. Probably in a book with a title fifty words long.

Double Down: Game Change 2012: B


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