Obama vs. Romney: "The Take" on Election 2012 by Dan Balz [Excerpt]
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The Inside Story of the 2012 Presidential Campaign. The presidential campaign of 2012 was one of the closest and most fierce, expensive, and unpredictable in our history, and Washington Post senior political correspondent Dan Balz chronicled every twist. Obama vs. Romney is a collection of 50 dispatches from the campaign trail, by one the preeminent political journalists of our times. Balz recounts the back-and-forth slugfest of 2012 in a single seamless narrative, including his hundreds of interviews with behind-the-scenes players who crafted both Obama’s scorched-earth re-election game plan and Romney’s audacious strategy for unseating a president. The result is a complete inside story of the campaign from the early days in both parties, through the dramatic ending that wasn’t written until the very last hours of the election.
DIVERSIONBOOKS OBAMA vs. ROMNEY The „Take‟ on Election 2012 by Dan Balz & The Washington Post DIVERSIONBOOKS Copyright Diversion Books A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp. 443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004 New York, New York 10016 www.DiversionBooks.com Copyright © 2012 by The Washington Post Cover designed by David Griffin All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For more information, email [email protected] First Diversion Books edition November 2012. ISBN: 978-1-938120-72-5(ebook) DIVERSIONBOOKS INTRODUCTION Those who have been through it say that presidential reelection campaigns are everything the first campaign was not – arduous, less joyful and more stressful, even in the best of circumstances. For President Obama, 2012 was a world apart from 2008. He was a political phenomenon when he began that campaign and his election made history. In 2012, he was battling against a stubborn economy, the scar tissue built up from four years of conflict with Republicans in Congress and the normal stresses and strains that come to any president. His advisers said they anticipated a close race against Mitt Romney, and they got it. Mitt Romney started running for president more than five years ago. He always knew he faced a narrow path to the presidency, one that required winning back states that President Obama took from Republicans in 2008 and traditionally Democratic states that had few apparent opportunities for Romney to steal away. Romney‟s message was straightforward and consistent throughout the campaign. In his formulation, the economy is still weak, unemployment and underemployment are at intolerably high levels and President Obama‟s policies have not made things better fast enough. But before he could make his case that he would be a better steward of the economy, Romney had to first survive a bruising primary season, beating back one challenge after another from Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He started off the general election campaign strong during the summer, tied or ahead in many national polls, but by September he was deep in trouble, falling behind in key swing states and fighting off the effects of a comment that made him appear insensitive. With one debate in Denver, however, his campaign was rejuvenated, and riding high, he hoped to ride that momentum all the way to the presidency. Obama, however, has always been blessed with good fortune and good timing as a politician, and an “October Surprise” hurricane gave him a chance to appear presidential and bipartisan as he led the relief effort on the East Coast. A decent jobs report in the waning days of the campaign, and an extraordinary turn-out-the-vote ground game, built on the foundation Obama laid in that historic 2008 election, gave him just enough of an edge to claim a second term. Here then is the inside story of the campaign of 2012, one of the closest and fiercest and most expensive and unpredictable in history, as told by one of Washington‟s preeminent political chroniclers. This collection of Washington Post senior political correspondent Dan Balz‟s dispatches from the trail recounts the up-and-down back-andforth slugfest of 2012: the primary season, the rough and tumble of the campaign trail, the decisive national conventions, and the wild and wooly endgame. Balz‟s dispatches link together in a single seamless narrative, enlivened with hundreds of interviews of behind-the-scenes players who crafted both Obama‟s winning gameplan and Romney‟s audacious challenge. It‟s a tale about a race that could have gone either way, with a dramatic ending that wasn‟t written until the very last days of the campaign. DIVERSIONBOOKS PROLOGUE LESSONS FOR OBAMA Sunday January 9, 2011 If President Obama and new White House Chief of Staff William Daley are looking for advice on how to think about dealing with the Republicans in Congress, they might consider a virtual visit to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. There, in the archives, is a nearly 10,000-word memo, dated December 1946, written by presidential adviser James H. Rowe Jr. Truman reportedly kept a copy of the memo in his desk for reference as he battled the 80th Congress, where as a result of the 1946 midterm elections both houses were newly in the hands of the Republicans. “Presidential leadership, if it means anything, means no more than how to lead the people only as fast as they will follow,” Rowe wrote. “The history of every administration shows that in the final analysis, a president has but one weapon - public opinion.” In the memo, Rowe tackles the topic of presidential vs. congressional powers and the specific question of whether Truman should pursue a course of cooperation, as many people were encouraging him to do at the time, or expect and embrace conflict. Those same issues have dominated discussions since the self-described shellacking that Obama and his party took in November‟s midterms. The recent lame-duck session suggests that cooperation might be possible in the coming year. Obama and the Republicans forged a compromise to extend the Bush-era tax cuts (to the chagrin of many Democrats) and the president won Republican support in the Senate for ratification of the New START pact. Rowe said there would be some opportunities for cooperation between Truman and the Republican-controlled 80th Congress. But his principal conclusion was that, expressions of goodwill and cooperative rhetoric aside, confrontation between the president and the congressional opposition was inevitable and probably necessary to preserve the powers of the presidency and the political standing of the incumbent. The president should always recognize, Rowe advised, that his strongest weapon in the daily conflict with Congress - and the key to maintaining his political support - was not the power to negotiate deals behind closed doors but rather the unique platform that the White House offers for shaping public opinion. The memo is a detailed analysis of both presidential power and the separation of powers. It assumes that the opposition controls both houses of Congress and examines how previous presidents had dealt with divided government. In that sense, there is an important distinction between Truman‟s situation and Obama‟s. With the Senate in Democratic hands, Obama has leverage that Truman did not, giving him added ammunition and the potential for more dealmaking. But Rowe is forthright in concluding that, because of the differences between the executive and legislative branches, and the nature of the two-party system, the president must be prepared to hold his ground and not be drawn too easily into backroom deals and DIVERSIONBOOKS concessions that would muddy in the public‟s mind where he really stands and confuse his coalition. Some of Rowe‟s words ring as if they were written last month, rather than 64 years ago. “Since the election the opposition leaders . . . have made numerous statements about their attitude toward the administration,” he wrote. “They have agreed generally that „cooperation‟ is necessary. But they have made it equally plain that their definition of cooperation is abdication by the executive.” That has been the thrust of what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have conveyed in their post-election comments about the need for the White House to yield to the will of the voters. Rowe explains that in his memo. Members of the opposition party, he noted, have no interest in carrying out the president‟s legislative program. “They believe their party has been given the mandate; that it is up to them and not the executive to set policy,” he wrote. “The opposition believe also that they can elect their own president two years from now. But the best way to do it is by [showing] the people every day and every way the presumed incompetence of the present administration.” Rowe also warned Truman of the potential disruption caused by congressional efforts to infiltrate and frustrate the workings of the executive branch - all of which sound familiar given what House leaders have been saying recently. He wrote: “They will demand congressional review of executive agency regulations. . . . They intend to investigate countless departments and agencies and war programs. They will request presidential files and require testimony from White House aides as well as departmental representatives.” He added that the president would be forced to resist vigorously or abdicate his powers. Rowe‟s memo captures much about the current moment. On Friday, House leaders began their largely symbolic effort to repeal the president‟s new healthcare law. Failing that, they will look for ways to block or delay implementation of key aspects of the law. They are preparing to attack the president‟s budget, even if some of their loftier goals for cutting spending may seem difficult to achieve. Their investigative machinery, under House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is cranking up with the goal of undoing executive regulations and rules. Rowe wasn‟t against gestures of cooperation, particularly in the early months of the new Congress. “The president can be conciliatory in his messages to Congress,” he wrote, specifically citing the State of the Union address as a time to signal willingness to work with Congress. He also outlined for Truman various possible mechanisms that had been talked about for formalizing cooperative efforts with the Congress. In the end, he rejected all such mechanisms, arguing that they would hinder the president from taking full advantage of the singular power of the presidency. Only the president speaks for all the people, he said. No one in Congress can purport to do so. A president can uniquely affect public opinion - and should use his office to freely and clearly outline his differences with the opposition. Those insights could be particularly useful to Obama over the next two years. If there was one overarching miscalculation during the president‟s first two years in office, it was the assumption that he could lead the public faster than the public was willing to be led. DIVERSIONBOOKS Whether on health care or the economy, Obama acted boldly - and in his view out of necessity - but failed to persuade the public of the rightness of his actions. Daley warned of this danger more than a year ago, anticipating the losses the Democrats suffered in November. Rowe‟s memo is a powerful reminder of what Obama should expect from the new Congress, why confrontation is to be expected and why winning the battle for public opinion should always be in the forefront of his mind. After all, the 1948 elections turned out well for Truman. DIVERSIONBOOKS PART I GOP KICKS OFF Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) during the presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire on October 11, 2011. (Melina Mara/ The Washington Post) DIVERSIONBOOKS Obama's team prepares for 2012 March 6, 2011 As Republicans dither, debating who is and who isn‟t in the 2012 race for the White House, President Obama and his team are moving swiftly to dive into the business of winning reelection. No office space has yet been rented. No committee has been formed. No official announcement date has been locked down. But by sometime next month, the president‟s team is likely to be a functioning, legal entity with a plan. That should send a message to potential Republican candidates, who have spent the winter trying to convince themselves that they can wait and wait and perhaps wait some more before they get moving. Obama‟s team believes otherwise. They know what time and effort are required to build a robust organization capable of winning a general election - and how important the work done this year will be. The president has already made the pivot. After the midterm shellacking, he has repositioned himself, moving to the center when needed (the tax deal with the Republicans late last year) while keeping a close eye on his restive liberal base (winning the repeal of “don‟t ask, don‟t tell” and announcing that his Justice Department would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act). He has rebuilt his White House around his new chief of staff, Bill Daley, and his 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, with Vice President Biden continuing to play a central role. The new White House team is steadier and more strategically focused than it was before the midterms - although whether it can win the budget battles with congressional Republicans is another matter. The next piece to fall into place will be the campaign operation. The Chicago-based reelection team will be under the direction of campaign manager Jim Messina, who recently stepped down as White House deputy chief of staff. David Axelrod, who has returned to Chicago after two years as senior adviser to the president, will again play the central role he did four years ago. In due course, the Obama campaign operation will be fully staffed and humming. At this point, it has studied the reelection campaigns of previous presidents. The campaign advisers understand their challenges and have ideas about how to deal with them. Obama‟s team, anticipating a closely fought general election, is focused on the key components of campaign machinery: money, organization and strategy. (The message was laid out in the president‟s State of the Union address - win the future - and will evolve with events). Start with money. Obama raised about $750 million in his 2008 campaign, an astounding amount. There has been talk, still speculative, that he might be the first $1 billion candidate in 2012. While grassroots money will continue to be significant, one of the Obama team‟s first priorities is to build up its stable of major donors and fundraisers. Messina is already at work on this task. A sign of the importance attached to major donors is the designation of DIVERSIONBOOKS Julianna Smoot, the 2008 finance director who served briefly as White House social secretary, as one of two deputy campaign managers for the reelection. The other deputy campaign manager is Jennifer O‟Malley Dillon, who will move from her post at the Democratic National Committee to oversee the rebuilding of Obama‟s grassroots army. Few campaigns have ever been as devoted to grassroots organization as Obama‟s. Perhaps inspired by the president‟s roots as a community organizer, his political operation is infused with almost missionary zeal about the power of people coming together - aided by new technology and social-networking resources. The Obama team has decided it will not give Republicans a free pass to criticize the president as they fight over their nomination. The president‟s reelection committee plans to put its own organizations into the early primary and caucus states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. “We can‟t cede the playing field,” one adviser said. “We can‟t just play general election. So we‟re going to have to organize on the ground in early states.” Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada all qualify as important general election battlegrounds. South Carolina is likely to fall into the Republican column in 2012, but with the Democratic convention scheduled for North Carolina, a presence in South Carolina would signal the Obama team‟s determination to make itself a force in at least some Southern states. But the team will also start work in other critically important states - Pennsylvania, for example. Obama lost the primary there to Hillary Rodham Clinton. He won the state in the general election over John McCain. But since then, the Democrats have been decimated there. In November, Democrats lost the governor‟s mansion, a Senate seat and several House seats. Gone is former governor Ed Rendell, who though a supporter of Clinton‟s was tireless in knitting Democrats together in the state. Obama‟s advisers see Pennsylvania as a state that will need plenty of organizational effort. The team plans to spend considerable time listening to activists and volunteers from 2008 and attempting to reengage with them, particularly those whose principal allegiance was to Obama and not to the Democratic Party structure. “Part of the genius in what the president built in „08 is that people really believed it was theirs,” Messina said. Strategically, Obama‟s team is thinking aggressively. Messina said it is too early to talk seriously about the general election map and targeted states, but at a time when some analysts on the other side suggest that Obama‟s options will be more limited in 2012 than in 2008, Messina believes just the opposite. “I understand the challenges of any reelection campaign,” he said, “but we‟re going to go into this with an expanded map and a bigger map in the beginning than in „08.” For example, Messina has his eye on states like Arizona, where he argues that McCain‟s absence from the ballot will give the president a better chance this time around. But there are others on his list, too, suggesting that just as in 2008, Obama‟s team is determined not to let the 2012 election be decided in Ohio and Florida. “We have many ways to 270,” he said, referring to the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency. “We have more ways to 270 than the other side.” If Republicans aren‟t thinking as strategically about the general election, it‟s time they were. DIVERSIONBOOKS Buy the eBook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBookstore | Kobo **** Connect with DIVERSIONBOOKS: If you liked this book, connect with Diversion Books for updates on new titles and authors: @DiversionBooks Facebook.com/DiversionBooks Diversion Books eNewsletter DIVERSIONBOOKS