Published today, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Game Change has the political class buzzing—most of all for its scoops on John and Elizabeth Edwards’ marriage and Harry Reid’s disparaging comments about Barack Obama’s race. But what does the book have to say about the other figures from the 2008 campaign? Read excerpts here about John and Cindy McCain’s epic fights, the Republican candidates’ hatred for Mitt Romney, and Dick Cheney’s distaste for Sarah Palin.
The McCains fought in front of others, during small meetings and before large events, to the amazement and discomfort of the staff.
John and Cindy McCain’s Epic Fights
“FUCK YOU! FUCK, FUCK, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!”
McCain let out the stream of sharp epithets, both middle fingers raised and extended, barking in his wife’s face. He was angry; she had interrupted him. Cindy burst into tears, but, really, she should have been used to it by now.
• Tina Brown: Politicians Gone Crazy The McCains fought in front of others, during small meetings and before large events, to the amazement and discomfort of the staff. Things could escalate quickly. She cursed him; he cursed her. She cried; he apologized. Cindy fought back, too. I never wanted you to run for this, she said. You ruined my life. It’s all about you. When it came time to film campaign videos of the couple, the camera crews had to roll for hours to capture a few moments of warmth.
Cindy McCain’s Alleged Boyfriend
But there were also rumors. In the spring of 2007, whispers from Arizona reached Salter and Weaver that Cindy has been spotted at a Phoenix Suns basketball game with another man. The man was said to be her long-term boyfriend; the pair had been sighted all over town in the last few years.
• Lee Siegel: Leave Elizabeth Edwards Alone• Quiz: John McCain or Jersey Shore?Members of the McCain senior staff discussed the unsettling news, amid their growing concerns that Cindy’s behavior had been increasingly erratic of late. Weaver and others suspected that the Cindy rumor was rooted in truth. It was upsetting, Weaver believed, but not a threat. The legitimate press would never write about a spouse’s personal life—unless that spouse was Bill Clinton.
Then the campaign heard that a supermarket tabloid was working on the story. It could blow up at any time. At a meeting in mid-April, Team McCain prepared a full-bore media plan to deal with the fallout if the story broke. Soon after, Weaver delicately approached McCain. Did he know about this? Would he talk to Cindy?
McCain appeared distraught, but not surprised. He seemed aware of the situation, and, incredibly, suggested it was a matter he preferred be dealt with by the staff.
This is something a husband needs to do, Weaver told him.
McCain called his wife. She denied an affair. You’ll have to come out on the road with me, he told her. You’ll have to travel more now. People will need to see us together.
Mitt Romney, Odd Man Out
Romney has no reticence about slashing at his rivals. But the perception of him as a man without convictions made him a less-than-effective delivery system for policy contrasts. The combination of the vitriol of his attacks and his apparent carelessness explained the antipathy the other candidates had toward him. McCain routinely called Romney an “asshole” and a “fucking phony.” Giuliani opined, “That guy will say anything.” Huckabee complained, “I don’t think Romney has a soul.”
Romney found his failure to break through frustrating. “It’s not fair,” he said to his aides. He was being defined as a flip-flopping Mormon—or a Mormon flip-flopper. He couldn’t fathom why the caricature of him was sticking, had no ability to see himself as others might. When Romney’s staff showed him the devastating YouTube video [showing his flip-flopping over the years], his first reaction was, “Boy, look how young I was back then.”
Did Bill Purposely Undermine Hillary?
With primary day finally upon then, Hillary’s advisers surveyed the wreckage of the week. For all the fears many of them had always nursed about the risks entailed by Bill, no one could have imagined an implosion quite this bad or this baffling. All during the campaign, media and cocktail party psychobabble had abounded as to whether the former president actually wanted his wife to win. Now, for the first time, Hillary’s closest aides began to contemplate the question seriously—asking themselves whether, on some unconscious level, he’d been trying to sabotage her.
Months later, one of them shook his head and said in wonder, “It would take 10 Freudians to explain what Bill Clinton did to Hillary in South Carolina.”
Hillary: Obama Will Never Accept Me
[Mark] Penn ran through the latest poll numbers, expressing his view of Obama’s chances against McCain as dicey.
“I want you to start thinking about how I avoid being blamed,” Clinton said. “Because I shouldn’t be blamed. But they are going to blame me. I somehow didn’t do enough.”
“’She stayed in too long,” Penn put in.
In a voice of mock horror, Clinton exclaimed, “'Oh, she damaged him,’ you know—screw you! I thought it was a competitive election. I can stay in as long as I want to stay in. Teddy Kennedy stayed in until the convention. Give me a break.”
Penn, always on the lookout for business, said he wanted to “try to reconcile with the Obama campaign.”
“They’re never going to reconcile,” Clinton said dismissively. “AIn’t gonna happen. Ain’t gonna happen. Ain’t gonna happen. They are vindictive and small. They don’t think they need me.”
Cheney: Palin a “Reckless Choice”
Yet the truth was that Palin’s critics weren’t only on the left. The reaction to her selection in much of the GOP establishment ranged from stupefaction to scorn. When Bush first caught the news of the pick on a basement television set in the West Wing, he thought at first he heard “Pawlenty.” ( Interesting, he mused.) But then he realized that the name was Palin, and he was completely baffled. ( Where did that come from?)
The current occupant of the VP’s chair had a harsher reaction. Palin was woefully unprepared, and McCain had made a “reckless choice,” Cheney told his friends.
Palin’s Eliza Doolittle Moment
Palin was in her robe, seated at a desk. [Nicolle] Wallace was there coaching her on the pronunciation of the proper names in the text of her address, repeating them over and over like a speech therapist. Every so often, they would pause so Palin could model a new outfit. If they liked it, fine; if not, they would often suggest an alteration. Lose the lapel! It would be better sleeveless! And the seamstress would go to work.
When Fred Davis, McCain’s media guy, walked into the suite, a couple of stylists were applying some kind of hot-iron contraption to Palin’s hair. There was steam coming off the top of her head that looked to Davis like smoke. For a moment he thought, Oh my God, her hair’s on fire!
Palin greeted Davis, whom she knew slightly from some work he had done on her gubernatorial race. She wanted his opinion on a matter of no small importance.
“My brand is hair up, isn’t it?” she asked.
Yes, it is, Davis said.
Biden: Is Palin for Real?
The Obamas were pushing a simple strategy: Ignore Palin. Don’t engage her. Whatever happens, don’t let her lure you down any rabbit holes with her crazy syntax and run-on sentences.
But Joe couldn’t resist—not at first. A week or two before the three days of formal debate camp started on September 29, the campaign put him through his paces in a mock run-through against Anita Dunn. She played the part by reading from a script assembled almost entirely out of verbatim Palin quotes. That's too incoherent, Biden exclaimed. Is that really what she says? No, that can't be her answer. But, I mean, she's not saying anything. How am I supposed to respond to that, folks?
And into the rabbit hole he went.