Books

11.07.13

“Double Down”: 13 Must Read Moments from the New Book

The 2012 election may not have had Sarah Palin, but as John Heilemann and Mark Helperin discovered in Double Down, there was still plenty to talk about.

There’s been a lot of coverage of Jon Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Double Down follow-up to their gangbusters hit Game Change. From the red flags raised by vetters of Chris Christie, to the Obama team thinking about swapping Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, to the relationship between Obama and Bill Clinton—these anecdotes have been everywhere. In addition to those stories, here are some more of the juiciest bits from the dishy new book.

Just tell me you love me.

Things haven’t always been rainbows and butterflies when it comes to the relationship between President Obama and Vice President Biden. Despite being brought on to round out then-Senator Obama in the 2008 campaign, Biden was essentially shut out of the campaign and its decision-making process. They rarely campaigned in tandem, and Biden was not on the nightly campaign conference calls.

Sometimes the two just wanted an apology. Before the two warmed to each other and became close, Biden made an offhand remark about the stimulus saying, “there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re gonna get it wrong.” To which the president cuttingly responded, “I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to. Not surprisingly.” That remark made Biden unhappy and he confronted the president about it. Later, when Biden seemingly endorsed gay marriage on Meet the Press before the president, Obama was bothered by Biden’s lack of apology (and Biden was unaware of why the president was unhappy until he was informed by his communications director). Once Biden apologized, on the day of the Robin Roberts interview, all was forgiven.

Rick Perry had problems…a lot.

It turns out, naming a third federal agency to eliminate was just one of a myriad of challenges Texas Governor Rick Perry faced. His back surgery in 2011 had complications that left him strapped into a brace, unable to run (which caused him to suffer from debilitating insomnia) and incapable of sitting or standing for long periods of time.

He also faced the wrath of the Bush family. Despite the Bush’s and Karl Rove giving Perry his launching pad to the governorship, Perry spent the 2000’s as a thorn in the Bush family’s side by opposing Robert Gates as president of Texas A&M, saying that George W. Bush “was never a fiscal conservative” as governor of Texas, and mocking his background saying, “I went to Texas A&M; he went to Yale.” Needless to say the Bush’s didn’t take to kindly to Perry’s actions, and Bush 43 said at a dinner party that, “You can’t take Perry seriously, he’s a chicken-shit guy.”

His campaign was also swamped by rumors that he was gay. Perry was even flat-out confronted about his sexuality at a meeting with well-known evangelicals. In addition, a Huffington Post reporter was single-mindedly chasing the story and forcing the campaign to focus on combating his assertions.

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‘Double Down: Game Change 2012’ By Mark Helperin and John Heilemann. 512 pages. The Penguin Press. $29.95. (The Penguin Press)
Stuart Stevens excused himself from Romney’s presence to go and vomit.

President Obama hid his support for gay marriage

Despite a public stance that he was evolving on the issue (after outright opposition in the 2008 campaign), Obama had long supported gay marriage before publicly saying so in an interview with Robin Roberts. Robert Gibbs heard him voice support in 2004, and after watching The Kids Are Alright, he told aides they were “gonna have to give up the ghost on this.”

The President found a huge surprise on a visit to Chicago.

While Donald Trump’s presence in the campaign would eventually backfire on Romney, he initially had a major impact in focusing the debate on the president’s birth certificate.  The president had no idea where his family had stored his long form birth certificate, and Hawaii was prohibited from releasing it. In 2011, while in Chicago for a fundraising trip, Obama was poking around some old boxes belonging to his deceased mother, Ann Dunham. As he dug through the boxes, lo and behold, there was a booklet with his birth certificate. As the president’s close friend Marty Nesbitt said when Obama told him about his find, “Now, that’s some funny shit.”

Jon Huntsman, Terminator

While Jon Huntsman’s campaign never managed to take off, it didn’t prevent them from playing spoiler. Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana was one of a handful of Republicans openly pursued by party leaders to run in 2012. However concerns over family secrets, specifically his wife Cheri leaving him for a married man in the 90’s (before reconciling with Daniels), made the Daniels family hesitant. Sealing the deal was a leak of the affair by the Huntsman team, including the married man’s ex-wife’s cell-phone and email address.

The Huntsman campaign also leveled flash-in-the-pan candidate Herman Cain. Following up on a tip from a donor, they found two sexual harassment claims against Cain and fed the story to Politico.

The best joke about Donald Trump came from Judd Apatow

See, all those Hollywood connections paid off. As the White House Correspondent’s Dinner approached and Donald Trump continued taking up TV time, the Obama team decided it was the perfect time to squelch him once and for all. The president lit into Trump, saying, “No one is happier, no one is prouder, to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the mood landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

As the elite of Washington guffawed, Trump looked furious.

Underlings fought…a lot

Some of the tastiest morsels in the book come in the stories about the people behind the scenes; the Beltway pundits, campaign consultants, politicians and other hangers-on.

—Republican consultant and TV personality Mike Murphy was asked by Romney to come on board the campaign. He turned Romney down, saying he would fire half his team. Murphy also told a friend that the man running Romney’s campaign, Stuart Stevens, “It’s not that we don’t like each other. I just think he’s an idiot.”

—Robert Gibbs and Valerie Jarrett did not exactly mesh well in the White House. The most famous incident of course being when he told her, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!” and when chided for his language saying First Lady Michelle Obama would not approve, he retorted, “Then fuck her, too!” Later he told the reporter who had the story, Jodi Kantor, that Jarrett was a liar.

—Clinton world gatekeeper Doug Band infuriated the Obama team by issuing an ultimatum that Bill Clinton’s involvement in the campaign would have a price tag of paying Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign debt.

—Governor Chris Christie’s GOP Convention speech was wildly panned for what was seen as a self-serving spotlight grab. However, in Christie’s eyes there was a concerted campaign by Romney staffers to trash him in the press, beginning with a New York Post cover titled, “FAT CHANCE,” and later anonymous sniping in Politico about how his speech stunk. Christie told Matt Rhoades, “You did not ask me to make one change in that speech. Now you fucking guys are cutting my nuts off.”

President Obama—super assassin

In a 2011 meeting looking back over what had been accomplished so far in the presidency, with the recent killing of Anwar al-Awlaki on the president’s mind, he told his staff, “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

The botched Benghazi response

For most of his presidency and the campaign, President Obama had seemed unassailable on foreign policy, much to the frustration of Mitt Romney. Then the attacks in Libya and Egypt on September 11, 2012 left what Romney thought was an opening. The embassy in Egypt, surrounded by a protest had released a statement condemning an anti-Islam video in the U.S. to try to calm the crowds. Romney and his team thought this represented the Obama administration apologizing for being attacked—and pounced. As events unfolded and the press began to attack Romney’s statement, the Romney team doubled down, largely due to concerns about appearing weak.

Meanwhile, VP Joe Biden declared, “He’s a horse’s ass,” and Obama claimed, “It’s practically disqualifying.” On top of Democratic scorn, establishment GOP figures also piled onto the comments. Meanwhile Romney team had bungled what might later have been an actual real criticism of the president and his team.

Insecurity

During the 2008 campaign and after, President Obama often found himself challenged by what his team called the “professional left,” or “professional blacks.” According to Heilemann and Halperin, he considers Charlie Rangel a hack, and basically barred Jessie Jackson Sr. from the White House (not surprising given what he wanted to do with the president’s private parts). However, the president still was sensitive on the issue of what the authors call his racial authenticity, even asking, “Am I still not black enough?”

John McCain is funny

When asked why he picked Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum, Senator John McCain said “The choice in the Republican Party has come down to dog-on-roof guy or the man-on-dog guy? I’m with the dog-on-roof guy.”

Rupert Murdoch is a drama queen

When the election was called for President Obama, Murdoch said, “Our nation is ruined.” He of course wasn’t alone. Ann Romney on the other hand declared, “It will become more clear to you as the days go on and you see what’s going to happen to our country. This was a turning point in the history of the nation.”

The Clint Eastwood mess

Despite how much of a shock it was to American audiences, some members of the Romney team had anticipated the disaster that would be Eastwood’s speech at the convention. At a fundraiser in Sun Valley, Clint had gone way off message, talking about taxing Olympic medals and rambling on. Kevin Madden and Ed Gillespie were both opposed to Eastwood speaking (Madden astutely blocked him being booked on the Sunday shows).

Before his speech, Eastwood was listening to Neil Diamond’s “I Am … I Said,” which contains the lyrics, “I am, I said, to no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.” As he got ready to go onstage, Eastwood got an idea, and had a stagehand bring him a chair. The rest is history.

Meanwhile, backstage, Stuart Stevens excused himself from Romney’s presence to go and vomit.