Published January 12, 2010
Just when you thought every stone had been unturned in the 2008 presidential race, a late-bloomer of a book comes along that dishes on just about everybody.
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's behind-the-scenes account, "Game Change," has rocked Washington despite arriving on the shelves months after a number of other campaign 2008 retellings.
The book is written with confidence, describing the drama-packed scenes that filled the race with fly-on-the-wall precision -- though many of the sources are never identified and the bulk of the book is written with no attribution. According to the authors, the accounts were based on more than 300 interviews with more than 200 people over the course of more than a year. With those "deep background" interviews, the authors have provided a tapestry of accusations and juicy tidbits to, well, fill a book.
Except for Barack Obama, who in this and all campaign histories is ever the embodiment of cool, the major camps in the 2008 race come away from this book wounded, looking more like their public caricatures than ever. There's already been some collateral damage, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid having to apologize for a passage in which he said Obama does not have a "Negro dialect" unless he wants one.
But there's more where that came from. The following is a run-down of some of the more interesting factoids and anecdotes in the 436 pages of this book.
The Clinton Camp
The book starts off with a bang, detailing early on how Hillary Clinton's campaign was preparing from the get-go for dealing with rumors of her husband's infidelity.
Then-campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle was disturbed, according to the book, about the very specific rumors she was hearing about the former president. They touched on affairs with actress Gina Gershon, a member of Canada's parliament, and a "wealthy divorcee," according to the book. The campaign considered the rumblings a big problem, and created a "war room within a war room" to deal with "the threat posed by Bill's libido." They worked to discredit most of the rumors, but according to the book discovered that at least one of them was true.
"Bill was indeed having an affair -- and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship," the book said.
The war room braced for the impact that ultimately never came.
But tensions remained high. Hillary Clinton reportedly lashed out at Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill after she said in an interview that Bill Clinton was a great president but she doesn't want her daughter "near him." Hillary Clinton in response canceled a fundraiser she was set to hold for the Missouri Democrat.
"F--- her," Clinton told an adviser.
As it turned out, the trouble for the Clinton campaign wasn't the former president's libido but his mouth. His public comments about Barack Obama were seen as insensitive, and at times racial - among those comments was Clinton's claim that Obama's opposition to the Iraq war was a "fairy tale," interpreted by some Obama supporters as a broad comment on the Illinois senator's campaign as a whole. Yet according to the book, Clinton bragged after his wife's New Hampshire primary victory that that comment was "pivotal" to her win.
"Game Change" also recounted how Bill Clinton bungled the effort to get the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on board. He reportedly offended Kennedy immensely when he said of Obama, "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee."
While Obama's team did not push Kennedy too hard, Clinton was aggressive in seeking the endorsement.
"The only reason you're endorsing him is because he's black," Clinton told Kennedy in one session, according to the book.
Months later, Hillary Clinton raised her husband's behavior in explaining to Obama why she did not want the job of secretary of state.
According to the book, Clinton at first declined the offer of the nation's top diplomatic post. She cited her campaign debt and the fact that she was simply exhausted, but during a conversation with Obama bluntly explained that she couldn't control her husband.
Obama reportedly told Clinton he would take that risk in exchange for having her on board.
The Edwards Camp
No campaign team comes across as more dysfunctional in the course of "Game Change" than the Edwards family.
The book describes a campaign that was plagued by distrust and a husband-and-wife team barely holding together. At first, advisers were worried about John Edwards' growing ego -- that later gave way to concern about his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter.
But Edwards' downfall is well documented. Perhaps most interesting is the book's depiction of Elizabeth Edwards as a vicious, spiteful, out-of-control head case.
The book described an incident in 2005 shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer. She was on a conference call with dozens of campaign aides when she was told the Edwards' family health care coverage had not yet been set up.
"She flew into a rage," according to the book, lashing out at those on the call and threatening to cut off everyone's health care until the problem was fixed.
Another flare-up came after The National Enquirer ran one of its many exposes on Edwards' affair with Hunter. At the time, the mainstream media did not pick up on the story, and John Edwards thanked his aides for the effort at containing the allegation. His wife, though, left a voice mail with an aide declaring: "You are poison! You're dead to us."
According to the book, she was also routinely dismissive of her husband, calling him a "hick" in front of others and making other condescending remarks.
Yet she fought to keep the affair out of the press. According to the book, both John and Elizabeth, in separate phone calls, tried to kill the Enquirer coverage by appealing to one of the higher-ups.
As the scandal dragged on, the couple continued to fight. The book described one incident where Elizabeth "tore off her blouse" while crying in an airport parking lot, shouting at her husband, "Look at me!" as she fell to the ground.
Despite the cloud of controversy and chaos that engulfed the Edwards camp long after the former senator's presidential bid had ended, Edwards apparently held out hope for a top spot in the Obama administration.
According to the book, Edwards was still talking about becoming Obama's attorney general as he prepared to confess his affair with Hunter in a televised interview.
The McCain-Palin Ticket
"Game Change" only builds on the myriad anecdotes already made public about the difficulty John McCain's campaign had in coaching Sarah Palin for her public appearances after she was tapped to be the vice presidential nominee.
The campaign reportedly was diligent in feeling her out. Adviser Mark Salter was concerned she was a creationist and asked her early on, point-blank, if she rejected the theory of evolution. Palin answered, according to the book, that she did not, but also didn't think evolution excluded a "role for God." Her faith was apparent though. According to the book, she told adviser Steve Schmidt, "It's God's plan," in describing her sudden entry into the race.
From there, the McCain team showered her with fact-filled index cards to get boned up on whatever information she might need to know in the campaign road ahead. One aide coached her on how to properly pronounce the word, "nuclear."
But the book detailed warning signs that troubled the campaign staff. Before her first network interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC, aides found her knowledge "minimal."
"Palin couldn't explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn't know what the Fed did. Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein," the book said.
In another training decision, Palin repeatedly referred to Joe Biden, the rival running mate, as "Senator Obiden."
There was other trouble in the McCain camp that long predated Palin. Not only were John and Cindy McCain fighting a lot, but the campaign was hearing rumors, according to the book, that Cindy McCain was spotted with a man at a basketball game "said to be her long-term boyfriend." John McCain appeared disposed to leave the matter alone, but was eventually convinced to confront his wife.
According to the book, McCain called her and she denied having an affair.
The irony in the controversy surrounding Reid in the wake of "Game Change" is that the book describes Reid's early efforts to support, not disparage, Obama. According to the book, Reid called Obama into his office long before the campaign started to tell him that he should run for president -- that he didn't envision Obama staying in the Senate forever.
But Reid also used an interesting choice of language to describe Obama's appeal, calling him a "light-skinned" African-American candidate "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Reid has since apologized for the remarks.