You'll be forgiven if you just aren't that into reliving the 2012 presidential election. As for looking toward the election coming up — in sooner-than-it-sounds 2016 — well, for some voters it's just a lot too early to be forced to think about those players, many of them repeats from the election just past.
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For the political junkies among us, however, there are two new books by veteran reporters with keen eyes, sharp ears and legendary reporting skills. Journalists Dan Balz, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann fill in every nugget that we didn't even know was missing from our already voluminous knowledge of the GOP primaries (that seemed to go on forever) and the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (ditto).
Between their two books — "Collision 2012" and "Double Down" — there's almost 1,000 pages of hubris, missteps, strategy, dirt, intrigue, back-stabbing, delusion and recriminations. But, even for those of us who think we can't get enough of politics, that's a lot of reading
The last thing any journalist wants to do is discourage sales of books written by our compadres. And both of these accounts ooze with such insight and detail, I couldn't put them down. That said, just in case your interest level isn't as high as mine, I've culled both to bring you highlights.
Let's start with the recently re-elected Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who decided not to run for president in 2012. If you had any doubt before, the size of this man's ego makes it clear he'll be a huge player in 2016, whether or not his weight-loss Lap-Band surgery works.
Oh, how he adored being begged to run as an alternative to Romney. As Balz, The Washington Post's chief correspondent, concludes after a post-election interview with Christie, he "savored every moment of the experience."
A high point in the failed seduction, as Christie recalled it for Balz, was when grand GOP pooh bah Henry Kissinger asked the governor to meet him in his New York office. Incongruously wearing a satin Yankees warm-up jacket, Henry the K flattered and cajoled the portly gov, dismissing Christie's lack of foreign policy expertise. "(W)e can work with you on that," Kissinger told Christie.
When Christie endorsed Romney more than a year before the election, Romney's wife, Ann, told him, "Governor, you don't know how important and big this is." Christie's reply? "I do." ("Double Down" says of Christie: "A candidate with a pair of clanging brass balls you could hear from around the corner.")
Fast forward to the GOP convention in Tampa where Christie was the keynoter. When the production team, worried about time, threatened to cut a three-minute video introducing Christie, Balz writes, the governor insisted that was not going to happen, threatening to drop an f-bomb on live TV. The video ran.
The Clint Eastwood crazy empty chair ramble at the convention was, to put it mildly, a disaster — so much so that chief Romney strategist Stuart Stevens walked out of the room where he was watching the unfolding horror show and puked.
Another big-ego governor, Texas Republican Rick Perry hasn't truly computed the devastating effect of what he told Balz was "that little brain fart." That's how he phrased what happened at a GOP debate when he couldn't remember the third of three government agencies he wanted to eliminate. "Oops," he said, compounding the problem by sounding like a doddering fool.
Nonetheless, in one of the biggest moments of self-delusion in political history, he told Balz that "…the 'oops' moment was kind of just one of those things that happens in life" and — despite suffering from insomnia through much of his failed campaign — "I think I went back and actually slept that night."
As for the guy who became the nominee, well, in case you are one of the few who thought otherwise, this was not exactly a case of fire in the belly. In 2006, Romney's family voted 12-0 in favor of his running for president in the 2008 contest. We all know how that turned out. Romney's wife was so turned off by that experience she said, "I will never let Mitt run again. We're done with this."
But when the family gathered four years later to vote again on whether Romney should give it another try, the vote was 10 against (including Romney himself) and only two for: Ann and son Tagg.
In an election postmortem, Tagg told Balz that up to the day before his father announced he was running for president again, in June 2011, "He was looking for excuses to get out of it." Tagg told Balz that a month earlier, after a brutal anti-Romney editorial in The Wall Street Journal, his Dad was set to tell his staff, "I'm out," convinced "his chances were zero" of winning the nomination.
"There were many other times between December and May where my dad had made up his mind not to run," Tagg said. "He was hoping for an exit. I think he wanted to have an excuse not to run."
In the breezy "Double Down," Halperin and Heilemann's splashiest reveal is the Obama campaign considered replacing Vice President Joe Biden with Secretary of State (and former presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton. Biden, they write, was aware of "the widespread caricature of him as a clownish gasbag" and he understood the image "was largely self-inflicted." ("How many times is Biden going to say something stupid," a frustrated Obama said.)
Biden's White House soul mate was Obama chief of staff Bill Daley: "both Irish Catholic sexagenarians with old-school tastes, old-school tendencies, and old-school values." Daley and Biden shared laughs about how Daley's predecessor as chief of staff, fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel, referred to Obama First Friend Valerie Jarrett and top aide Pete Rouse as Uday and Qusay, "after Saddam Hussein's power-mad sons."
But politics is a rough business, so despite the Daley-Biden bonhomie, Daley was the most vocal booster of polling and focus groups to explore ditching Biden for Clinton. "Biden had dodged a bullet he never saw coming," the authors write after the research showed that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn't do much to improve Obama's chance of winning re-election.