Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann
$17.30 at Amazon ($11.93 Kindle)
In early October 2012, things seemed to be going very well indeed for Mitt Romney. He faced an unpopular incumbent presiding over a still-lethargic economy. He had access to a staggering amount of money (his total spending surpassed the president’s by over a hundred million dollars), although he had limited control over the significant fraction of it that passed through the Romney-aligned Super PACs. Finally, he was in complete control of the first debate, coming out of Denver as the clear winner. Yet a few weeks later, he would lose the election by millions of votes, with the president claiming over 60% of the electoral college.
There have already been a number of books written about the 2012 election, and will no doubt be many more, but Double Down has been hotly anticipated as a sequel to 2010′s Game Change. As in Game Change, the authors appear to have been granted extensive access to hundreds of people involved in the campaigns; they credit over 500 interviews (all, naturally, on deep background). But does the book live up to the hype?
For the most part, the writing is very good and kept me turning pages. The authors do have an annoying tendency to never use a common word where an obscure word will do, which detracts from the readability; I consider myself to have a pretty good vocabulary, but I found myself pulling out my phone more than once to look up yet another obscure adjective. Otherwise, the book flows fairly well. The first section, by far the shortest, covers the Obama administration in the lead-up to the election season. I got the sense that the authors felt they had already covered Obama sufficiently in Game Change and now wanted to concentrate on the republicans.
Section two covers the republican primary season. As with the primary voters, the text jumps from one candidate to another as Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum become ascendant, but always returns to Mitt Romney as the current not-Mitt flames out. Romney is definitely the star of the book, and where Obama intrudes in this section, he and his policies are seem from Romney’s point of view.
In section three, the stage is set, the candidates selected. From the Obama side, we see the reconciliation with Clinton and the struggles the candidate has in switching from his preferred professorial lecture mode to the style required of modern presidential debates. Still, the focus remains on the Romney campaign, the struggles they have with introducing their candidate to the country, and some of the innumerable missteps they took along the way.
What disappointed me about this book was that, except for things I would classify as gossip (such as who told Harry Reed that Romney went a decade without paying taxes, and several incidents demonstrating why Obama’s feelings of betrayal when private stories were leaked to the press), there isn’t a lot of new information in this book. I had hoped to read more about the Obama administration’s get out the vote operation and their vaunted computer system (and the Romney campaign’s disastrous ORCA system), but these went unmentioned; while they’ve been covered to some extent in other books, I haven’t seen one that covers them in the level of detail I would like to see. What I did enjoy was the details of how each of the republican candidates, most of whom I would consider to have zero chance of becoming president, came to sincerely believe at one time or another that he or she would win the nomination and the election.
In the end, this is a book not about tactics or policy, but about people – about the choices that Obama and Romney (and, to a lesser extent, the other republican candidates) made about how to present themselves to the voters. Right up to election day, Romney believed that he would be the victor, and this book attempts (largely successfully) to demonstrate how he and the people around him viewed his candidacy. For the most part, this is the story of Mitt Romney.