political junkies

For a campaign junkie like me, reading Double Down was sheer pleasure, as was its predecessor by the same authors, Game Change. I’ve been reading book-length accounts of presidential campaigns since Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1960. This has something to do with my having been personally engaged in six campaigns for the presidency, including several with significant fundraising roles. But there’s more involved than that.

There are few human experiences that so predictably and so routinely subject the individuals involved to such excruciating stress as a big-time political campaign, and those for the presidency are the most extreme case.

It’s difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced something similar to understand what it’s like. You’re forced to make highly consequential decisions within minutes, or sometimes even seconds, with only the barest minimum of information to go on. And that’s often at the end of a stretch of several 100-hour workweeks when an uninterrupted night’s sleep is only a distant memory. And not just once, but repeatedly: for weeks or months on end, the pressure never stops. If anything mimics the pressure that routinely comes to bear on the President of the United States, it’s a campaign for the office. And getting a ringside seat to witness the behavior of these highly influential people in extremis is a rare privilege, worth far more than the price of this book.

Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann ★★★★★

Red meat for political junkies

Double Down makes it possible for those of us who prefer the role of spectator to that of actor to enjoy this experience vicariously (if “enjoy” is really the right word). An Author’s Note claims that Halperin and Heilemann conducted “more than five hundred full-length interviews with more than four hundred individuals . . . between the summers of 2010 and 2013.” And this isn’t hard to believe, given the innumerable references to the state of mind, or the actual words, of many leading actors in the latter-day reality play that was the presidential election of 2012. For example:

  • Mitt’s wife, Ann, was even more upset — and it was all about Palin. . . She could barely comprehend McCain choosing anyone but Mitt, but this moose-hunting woman from Wasilla, Alaska? Really?
  • [Referring to his strange performance at the Republican National Convention, shouting at an empty chair on network TV] “If somebody’s dumb enough to ask me to say something,” [Clint] Eastwood remarked, “they’re gonna have to take what they get.” [It was Romney who’d asked him.]
  • [After stealing Obama’s thunder by stating on Meet the Press that he favored same-sex marriage] Biden went home after the taping thinking that he hadn’t made news and had done nothing wrong. That he’d been clear he wasn’t enunciating new policy, just stating a personal opinion.

You can’t make this stuff up! Or, rather, you can, but if you put it in print, you might get sued.

For any political junkie, Double Down is a must-read. The lengthy narratives about the two candidates’ preparation for the debates are priceless by themselves.

Mark Halperin is the senior political analyst for Time magazine, Time.com, and MSNBC. John Heilemann covers politics for New York magazine.

For further reading

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