Double Down: Game Change 2012
by Mark Halperin, John Heilemann
Hardcover- $22.48

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times:
"Those hungry for political news will read Double Down for the scooplets and insidery glimpses ...

Overall rating:


How would you rate this book?

Member ratings

  "Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin, John Heilemann " by thewanderingjew (see profile) 12/16/13

If you are a political junkie, this is your food! In this carefully researched book, we are presented with a picture of men and women preoccupied with publicizing “gotcha” moments rather than emphasizing qualifications, preoccupied with shaming an opposing candidate rather than extolling the virtues of their own; it is an image of men and women with few scruples and a belief that any means will justify the ends. It is a book depicting schadenfreude at its worst. Whether or not the best “man or woman” for the job was elected, was of little concern. The candidate’s performance, rather than achievement, was the high water mark. Ethics and honesty were the waste products of their efforts to simply win at all costs.
The book reflects the enormous effort put forth by the authors to find the truth behind the last election. It is detailed and intense, at times. The character of the people involved will often be less than stellar and may be eye-opening for some who thought it would be a contest between gentlemen or gentlewomen. The gloves come off, if not with the candidates, than surely with their handlers. When the sniff blood in the water, they circle. Soon after the candidates throw their hats into the ring, they attack.
I got the overall impression that Romney was a man who was too soft for this fight, a man in the mouth of the shark, being eaten by his own and by Team Obama. He was out of his element and very naïve when it came to his party’s politics and the brutality of Chicago’s politics. Chicago’s efforts were strong arm and the players were gleeful about the attacks and wounds inflicted. Boston’s politics were more Brahmin, up tight, hoping to take the higher ground, and shocked when its efforts failed to achieve success, but also unable to land the final punch because of what they perceived as below the belt tactics. Romney simply never swung hard enough, often enough, or in the right direction. This David could never defeat this Goliath. The fight was not on an even playing field. Not only nature conspired against Romney, but his own fellow Republicans, his own party betrayed him. First they wouldn’t support him. Then, by the time they climbed on the bandwagon, they had demonized and/or demoralized him far more than the Democrats ever could have and damaged him beyond repair. They did the work of their enemies. In their stubborn hubris, some members of the GOP didn’t turn out to vote because they didn’t approve of him 100%. As a result, they helped elect someone they didn’t approve of at all!
Obama raised the stake in the Presidential race regarding money and negativity. He ran the most expensive and the most negative campaigns, even as he disavowed those policies. He distanced himself from any tarnish by claiming ignorance. His people kept him in the dark about the specifics of strategy so he could claim he simply didn’t know. This is a pattern that continues with Obama and his White House, even today.
Although the population of the country believed, in polling, that Romney was better qualified, they felt that Obama was most like them. In addition, because of the way the campaign rules were designed, Obama and his organization were able to come out of the gate earlier and attack Romney before he had the funds to defend himself properly, defining him for the public in ways that didn’t even resemble the man, “palinizing” him. Guilty of the same practices as those they were demonizing, they still pretended innocence and attacked the people who funded Romney, though they were funded by equally rich and scurrilous supporters. They attacked his wealth, as if he was out of touch with the “real” people, though some Democrats like Kerry and Pelosi are some of the richest people, who protect their money fiercely. Even as they painted a picture of Romney as a flip-flopper, Obama was doing some flip-flopping of his own, voting to raise the debt ceiling when he previously voted against it. Even as they accused Romney of misleading the public, they were experts at it (think healthcare, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor). Even as they maligned big business, they courted corporate donations. Somehow the Obamans, managed to say one thing and do another, or as the children’s adage goes, “do as I say, not as I do”.
Romney surrounded himself with people who warred with each other and that didn’t help his effort to win. They never properly countered the attacks made on Romney and never fully defined him accurately. They presented speeches late, and often, simply couldn’t remediate Romney’s own gaffes. Perhaps it was a lack of money that caused the failure or perhaps it was the campaign rules, whatever it was is immaterial. Obama defeated Romney and has another four years to impose his dream upon Americans.
When Part 1 of the book begins, it describes a man who is floundering, who cannot project his message, who is so detached from his situation that he cannot truly engage. How do Obama’s handlers accomplish a complete turn around? Well they had help from natural disasters (hurricane Sandy), an overcrowded field of Republican candidates who eviscerated each other at every opportunity, a biased media in their pocket, and a left-leaning debate moderator who inserted herself into the debate, supporting her candidate, Obama, while she refuted Romney’s comment and corrected him, publicly humiliating him. (Her intervention may or may not have been accurate, it certainly was improper, and it shook Romney’s confidence.) Those are just a few of the things that happened that were out of the control of Romney and his team.
Obama listened to all advice given to him but often found himself unable to follow it. When shellacked in the midterm elections, he was told to move to the middle, but he thought he was already there. He had often been very lucky; nothing stuck to him. Michelle Obama was his secret weapon during the 2012 campaign. She raked in the money and performed well, and was better liked than he was. However, she too, was often unconcerned with the political optics and did as she pleased. When Obama asked Clinton to help him, it was under duress. He is not the kind of man who wanted to look like he needed anyone’s help. He was nothing, if not self-possessed, but he was floundering and bringing in Bill Clinton turned out to be a brilliant move. His base of Hispanics, Blacks, single mothers, unmarrieds, and young adults, were at the core of his success. Some believed that he had bought their support with giveaways, with the policies designed to help their particular groups which gave them freebies. He used executive orders when he couldn’t get Congress to go along. Although some called it bribery, recipients were more likely to call it Christmas!
The book is full of little tidbits like the nicknames for various people on the teams, personal thoughts about the high-rollers, and insults galore about almost everyone mentioned. It sheds light on a President who is unable to accept defeat, unable to recapitulate, unable to truly compromise though he truly believes it is exactly what he is doing. He is a man who does not like politics as the game it is, but he has changed its rules making it more negative and more costly, and he plays it with a brutality that is unmatched. He and his team wanted to win the election and they would do that by hook or crook. Although other teams had ruthless tactics, none seemed as ruthless as his team’s efforts. The methods often shocked those affected by them as they were steamrolled under their advancing tank while blame was placed on innocents.
Vice President Biden was often portrayed as the fool, an image he resented. He earned his reputation; he had a proclivity for making gaffes. He was kept in the background during much of the campaign, and, secretly, there were meetings to replace him with Hillary, When he secretly tried to organize a fund-raising effort for himself, in the event he wanted to run again, in 2016, it was discovered and he was reprimanded by Plouffe for his disloyal behavior. Obama had his comrades, and they spied for him and were ultra loyal.
In Part 2, we get to know Romney more fully. A devout Mormon and a devoted husband and father, like Obama, his religion was a huge stumbling block, and it may have proved to be too hard to overcome. His health care effort in MA was a thorn in his back. Even though Obama said they based Obamacare on Romneycare, and his team and the media used it against him, today the people in MA are losing their coverage because it doesn’t satisfy the requirements of Obamacare. Perhaps, the two plans were not that similar, but it sure was a good talking point to take Romney down. Also, Romney’s opponents didn’t care if they told the truth. Even as they called Romney a liar, they told bigger lies and denied them. The right undermined Romney and the left stacked the decks against him spending money on constant attacks, regardless of whether or not they were accurate. The greatest wound came from the conservatives who put the final nail in the coffin when they wouldn’t turn out to vote for him. Turnout was key, and turnout did not happen for Romney; it happened for Obama. He had the better management team. His team was loyal and devoted. Obama did not have to contend with any opponents in his own party, and he had the bully pulpit. Romney was even maligned by fellow Mormons, Harry Reid (Democrat), notably, who made unproven and false accusations about Romney’s taxes, and Jon Huntsman (Republican), whose father fed Reid the false information. The GOP candidates sucked the air out of every room as they fought with each other. They continued this fight into overtime, essentially practically winning the election for Obama. The campaign treated Romney like a yoyo, up and down from moment to moment. In the end, the Republicans dragged defeat, kicking and screaming, from the jaws of victory and sealed their own fate.
In Part 3, the final stages of the campaign between Romney and Obama are finely tuned and described in detail. With the media in Obama’s corner, it was hard for Romney to grab the spotlight. He had no way of getting free publicity as Obama did. Money would prove to be one of the game changers in this election, as it was in the last.
In back rooms, heavy hitters tried to entice last minute “stars” to enter the race and overtake Romney, others wanted to bring the vote to the convention floor, continuing the debacle until the last moment. They were unsuccessful, but they sure inhibited Romney’s efforts, and their own hopes to win.
Meanwhile, Obama had his own troubles too. As he and his ilk went around gleefully extolling the marvels of the 1% and trashing Wall Street and those that actually worked for a living, their money was drying up. You can’t trash people and then put your hand out and expect them to give you anything. He had to flip-flop to get them back on board. To prevent him from looking guilty, he was often kept in the dark about the strategies used to betray those from whom he begged money. This has become a common practice in the Obama White House, for he claims to never know anything until he sees it on television! Either he is misleading the public or he is very disengaged.
The race was rather more of a beauty contest. It was about who had the better stage presence, who performed with greater aplomb! In both the Republican and the Democrat’s conventions, the main event was upstaged by an invited guest, but in Obama’s case, the guest sang his praises, and in Romney’s case, his guests sang their own! With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Romney was naïve and Obama was messianic. Although he changed his stance many times, he got away with it, so that CHANGE truly was his slogan now. I asked myself many times during the book, “Will the real Barack Obama please stand up”? When Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair, at the GOP convention, ineptly parodying Obama, the left ridiculed him as a doddering old, crazy man. Yet, the reality of it was that some thought that Obama was becoming dangerously close to becoming an empty suit!
Obama believed that the failure of the Democratic process and his failure to get all of his agenda accomplished, was not due to his or his party’s failed efforts, but was a result of a public that simply wasn’t smart enough to understand his agenda or the reasons behind his efforts. Yet, in spite of his low opinion of his base, they continued to support him.
The book is aptly named, and to be honest, the game disgusts me.

Remember me

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.



Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...