Game Change 2012
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin set the national conversation on fire with their bestselling account of the 2008 presidential election, Game Change. In Double Down, they apply their unparalleled access and storytelling savvy to the 2012 election, rendering an equally compelling narrative about the circuslike Republican nomination fight, the rise and fall of Mitt Romney, and the trials, tribulations, and Election Day triumph of Barack Obama.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews with the people who lived the story, Heilemann and Halperin deliver another reportorial tour de force that reads like a fast-paced novel. Character driven and dialogue rich, replete with extravagantly detailed scenes, Double Down offers a panoramic account of a campaign at once intensely hard fought and lastingly consequential. For Obama, the victory he achieved meant even more to him than the one he had pulled off four years earlier. In 2008, he believed, voters had bet on a hope; in 2012, they passed positive judgment on what he'd actually done, allowing him to avert a loss that would have rendered his presidency a failed, one-term accident. For the Republicans, on the other hand, 2012 not only offered a crushing verdict but an existential challenge: to rethink and reconstitute the party or face irrelevance--or even extinction. Double Down is the occasionally shocking, often hilarious, ultimately definitive account of an election of singular importance.
BARACK OBAMA WAS BACK in Chicago and back on the campaign trail, two realms from which he had been absent for a while but which always felt like home. It was April 14, 2011, and Obama had returned to the Windy City to launch his reelection effort with a trio of fund-raisers. Ten days earlier, his people had filed the papers making his candidacy official and opened up the campaign headquarters there. Five hundred and seventy-two days later, the voters would render their judgment. To Obama, Election Day seemed eons away—and just around the corner.
Working his way from two small events for high-dollar donors at fancy restaurants to a crowd of two thousand at Navy Pier, the incumbent served up the old Obama fire. He invoked the memory of the last election night in Grant Park, “the excitement in the streets, the sense of hope, the sense of possibility.” He touted his achievements as “the change we still believe in.” He ended the evening with a “Yes, we can!”
But again and again, Obama cited the burdens of his station. Although he’d always known that as president his plate would be full, the fullness was staggering—from the economic crisis to the swine flu pandemic, the BP oil spill, and the hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. (“Who thought we were going to have to deal with pirates?”) He acknowledged the frustrations of many Democrats at the fitfulness of the progress he’d brought about, the compromises with Republicans. He apologized for the fact that his head wasn’t fully in the reelection game. “Over the next three months, six months, nine months, I’m going to be a little preoccupied,” Obama said. “I’ve got this day job that I’ve got to handle.”
The president’s preoccupations at that moment were many and varied, trivial and profound. In public, he was battling with the GOP over the budget and preparing for a face-off over the federal debt ceiling. In secret, he was deliberating over an overseas special-ops raid aimed at a shadowy target who possibly, maybe, hopefully was Osama bin Laden. But the most persistent distraction Obama was facing was personified by Donald Trump, the real estate billionaire and reality show ringmaster who was flirting with making a presidential run under the banner of birtherism—the crackpot conspiracy theory claiming that Obama was born in Kenya and thus was constitutionally ineligible to preside as commander in chief.
Obama had contended with birtherism since the previous campaign, when rumors surfaced that there was no record of his birth in Hawaii. The fringe theorists had grown distractingly shrill and increasingly insistent; after he won the nomination in June 2008, his team deemed it necessary to post his short-form birth certificate on the Web. The charge was lunacy, Obama thought. Simply mental. But it wouldn’t go away. A recent New York Times poll had found that 45 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of voters overall believed he was foreign born. And with Trump serving as a human bullhorn, the faux controversy had escaped the confines of Fox News and conservative talk radio, reverberating in the mainstream media. Just that morning, before Obama departed for Chicago, ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos had asked him about it in an interview, specifically citing Trump—twice.
As Obama made his fund-raising rounds that night, he avoided mentioning Trump, yet the issue remained much on his mind. What confounded him about the problem, beyond its absurdity, was that there was no ready solution. Although Trump was braying for his original long-form birth certificate, officials in Obama’s home state were legally prohibited from releasing it on their own, and the president had no earthly idea where his family’s copy was. All he could do was joke about the topic, as he did at his final event of the night: “I grew up here in Chicago,” Obama told the crowd at Navy Pier, then added awkwardly, “I wasn’t born here—just want to be clear. I was born in Hawaii.”
Obama was looking forward to spending the night at his house in Kenwood, on the city’s South Side—the redbrick Georgian Revival pile that he and Michelle and their daughters left behind when they took up residence in the White House. He arrived fairly late, after 10:00 p.m., but then stayed up even later, intrigued by some old boxes that had belonged to his late mother, Ann Dunham.
Dunham had died seven years earlier, but Obama hadn’t sorted through all her things. Now, alone in his old house for just the third night since he’d become president, he started rummaging through the boxes, digging, digging, until suddenly he found it: a small, four-paneled paper booklet the world had never seen before. On the front was an ink drawing of Kapi‘olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital, in Honolulu. On the back was a picture of a Hawaiian queen. On one inside page were his name, his mother’s name, and his date of birth; on the other were his infant footprints.
The next morning, Marty Nesbitt came over to have breakfast with Obama. The CEO of an airport parking-lot company, Nesbitt was part of a tiny circle of Chicago friends on whom the president relied to keep him anchored in a reality outside the Washington funhouse. The two men had bonded playing pickup basketball two decades earlier; their relationship was still firmly rooted in sports, talking smack, and all around regular-guyness. After chatting for a while at the kitchen table, Obama went upstairs and came back down, wearing a cat-who-ate-a-whole-flock-of-canaries grin, waving the booklet in the air, and then placing it in front of Nesbitt.
“Now, that’s some funny shit,” Nesbitt said, and burst out laughing.
Clambering into his heavily armored SUV, Obama headed back north to the InterContinental hotel, where he had an interview scheduled with the Associated Press. He pulled aside his senior adviser David Plouffe and press secretary Jay Carney, and eagerly showed them his discovery.
Plouffe studied the thing, befuddled and wary: Is that the birth certificate? he thought.
Carney was bewildered, too, but excited: This is the birth certificate? Awesome.
Obama didn’t know what to think, but he flew back to Washington hoping that maybe, just maybe, he now had a stake to drive through the heart of birtherism, killing it once and for all—and slaying Trump in the bargain. Striding into a meeting with his senior advisers in the Oval Office the next Monday morning, he reached into his suit pocket and whipped out the booklet, infinitely pleased with himself.
“Hey,” Obama announced, “look what I found when I was out there!”
Praise for Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Double Down
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times:
"Those hungry for political news will read Double Down for the scooplets and insidery glimpses it serves up about the two campaigns, and the clues it offers about the positioning already going on among Republicans and Democrats for 2016 ... The book testifies to its authors’ energetic legwork and insider access ... creating a novelistic narrative that provides a you-are-there immediacy ... They succeed in taking readers interested in the backstabbing and backstage maneuvering of the 2012 campaign behind the curtains, providing a tactile ... sense of what it looked like from the inside."
Michael Kinsley, The New York Times Book Review:
“Chock-full of anecdotes, secret meetings, indiscreet remarks ... No one can compete [with Halperin and Heilemann]. That’s what it means to own the franchise. It’s a small club: these two guys and Bob Woodward. And with this book, they’ve earned their admission.”
“Sharp insights buttressed by startling indiscretions fill Double Down, a new account of Barack Obama’s win over his 2012 Republican rival, Mitt Romney. This gripping book—a sequel to Game Change, a bestseller about Mr. Obama’s 2008 path to the White House—cements the status of the authors as unrivalled chroniclers of campaign politics.”
"Compulsively readable follow-up to Game Change...A chronicle of the freak show that was the 2012 presidential election, the book illustrates how profoundly personality shapes history....Double Down amply demonstrates how our 44th President earned every one of those brand-new gray hairs."
“Many juicy disclosures ... [a] near-flawless narrative.”
Jeff Labrecque, Entertainment Weekly:
“Journalists Halperin and Heilemann don’t lack for access, delivering another down-and-dirty account of an election that plays out like high-stakes high school cafeteria politics…. Double Down looks less like a sequel to 2008 than a tantalizing prequel to 2016. I’m all-in.”
Peter Hamby, The Washington Post:
“Page-turning…. translat[es] insider politics for mass-market readers with behind-the-scenes reporting and Gonzo flair."
“A highly entertaining, dishy read, full of astonishing revelations about the strengths and, most intriguingly, the foibles of the nation’s political stars and egos… Like crack for political junkies.”
"Oh, political junkies, it’s time to feast on the red-and-blue deliciousness that was the 2012 election. As they did in their book about the previous presidential joust, Game Change (2010), the well-connected authors have worked their sources thoroughly to give readers a warts-and-all look at what went on behind the scenes. … Halperin and Heilemann give readers a real sense of why things shaped up the way they did, why events fell one way or the other, and who got clobbered as a result."
“Double Down succeeds by sticking to its story and having the main characters—Obama, Romney, Joe Biden and their key aides—reveal themselves through their actions. The result is a much more coherent experience of the campaign than readers could get by living through the contemporaneous news coverage. By letting the story do the work, the authors show us a lot.”
“Sharp writing and intriguing behind-the-scenes nuggets that are sure to get tongues wagging."
“Their in-depth look at the chaotic GOP primary also sheds light on the emerging schism between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party movement, which bubbled to the surface during the recent government shutdown. These insider insights help to breathe new life into old news, and make Double Down a must read for political junkies.”
“[Halperin and Heilemann] are without question two of politics ultimate insiders…Their first book about the 2008 election, Game Change, took the world of Washington by storm. Well they’ve done it again. Their brand new book Double Down is stirring up just as much controversy.”
Ezra Klein, The Washington Post:
“Double Down... is a joyous romp through the seedy underbelly of presidential campaigning....It’s also a marvel of reporting. Any time three staff members met in a room to badmouth a colleague or a candidate admitted to a moment of stress or self-doubt, ... John Heilemann and Mark Halperin appear to have been sitting in the corner, scribbling notes."
Joe Scarborough, MSNBC/Morning Joe:
“Done it before, and have done it again.”
“In many ways, an insight into America.”
Chris Matthews, MSNBC/Hardball:
“Great new book…. Great reportage.”
Barbara Walters, ABC-TV/The View:
“Authors of the bestselling book turned Emmy-winning HBO movie Game Change are telling all in their latest book ... It is terrific.”
“This is a great read.”
Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC’s The Last Word:
"I love this book.”
Anderson Cooper, AC360:
“Really fascinating details.”
Andrew Ross Sorkin, CNBC's Squawk Box:
“Buzz book of the moment.”
Dylan Byers, Politico:
“In an era when the most minute details of a presidential campaign are chronicled in endless tweets and seemingly instant eBooks they have published an old-fashioned print product filled with new revelations.”
Howard Kurtz, Fox News:
“You’d think there were no revelations left from the 2012 campaign, but Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the Game Change duo, strike again in their new book.”
“Fascinating new insights.”
"Sizzling... They've done it again."
Willie Geist, MSNBC/Morning Joe:
“Halperin and Heilemann present another handsomely crafted nonfiction political thriller, never devoid of shocking disclosures….the scenes they construct are generally insightful and entertaining. These two accomplished journalists are adept at capturing the clash of personalities in contemporary American politics, and they have an uncanny ability to get scoops other reporters don't.”
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