AS UNFLATTERING A LIGHT AS POSSIBLE…. With all that happened in 2009, and all that’s set to happen in 2010, it seems a little unnecessary to relive some of the behind-the-scenes details of the 2008 presidential campaign. The longest, biggest race for the White House in American history dominated the world’s attention for quite a while, but that’s all behind us now.
Or, it was. Some of the juicier details from John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s new book, “Game Changer,” are notable enough to look back, at least once more.
Obviously, Harry Reid’s unfortunate quote will get plenty of attention. There are apparently some unbecoming revelations about the McCains and the Clintons, and Sarah Palin comes across, again, as conspicuously unintelligent (leading up to her interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, campaign aides were unhappy that Palin “couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations,” did not know what the Federal Reserve did, and was convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.”
Perhaps most strikingly New York magazine ran a fairly long excerpt from “Game Changer” on John and Elizabeth Edwards, who appear to be … how do I put this gently … stark raving mad.
It’s hard to summarize, but the excerpt noted, “Edwards’s story is equally, lastingly resonant: an archetypal political tragedy in which the very same qualities that fuel any presidential bid — ego, hubris, vanity, neediness, a kind of delusion — became all-consuming and self-destructive.” Consider this anecdote:
On July 22, the Enquirer ran a story about him paying a secret visit to Hunter and her baby. Two weeks later, it published a grainy “spy photo” of Edwards holding the little girl.
Edwards, panicked, assembled a handful of his former staffers — Ginsberg, Prince, and Jennifer Palmieri, his press secretary from 2004 — to strategize, and settled on the idea of performing a mea culpa on Nightline.
Don’t do this interview unless you plan to tell the whole truth, Palmieri urged him, because if you lie, you’re going to make things infinitely worse. Edwards replied that he was going to confess to the affair, but deny paternity of the child. He didn’t want to jeopardize his chances of being Obama’s attorney general, he said.
“That, John?” Palmieri said in disbelief. “That was gone a long time ago.” Palmieri had been on the phone with the Obama campaign, which was sending the clear, if gentle, signal that there was no longer a slot available for Edwards to speak at the convention. “You have to call Obama right now” and back out, Palmieri said.
“I don’t want to give up on that yet,” Edwards insisted.
Also note the often-desperate attempts at deal-making. Two months before the Iowa caucuses, Edwards asked Leo Hindery, one of his closest confidants, to reach out to Tom Daschle, a close Obama ally, about a possible deal: whoever wins Iowa picks the other as his running mate. The idea was brought to the Obama campaign, but it didn’t go anywhere. After Obama’s success in Iowa, Edwards became desperate about the scheme.
Hindery left the Edwards suite and tried frantically to locate Daschle, but discovered that he wasn’t in Iowa. Calls were placed. Messages were left. No one knew where he was.
As Edwards delivered his speech, Hindery stood to his right, until an aide alerted him that Daschle was on the phone. Hindery stepped offstage and took the call, straining to hear Daschle over the noise of the crowd. “Tom? I’ve got John right here,” Hindery said. “You aren’t going to believe this, but he’s willing to cut a deal right now. He’ll agree to be Barack’s V.P.”
“Are you sure you want to do this now?” a dumbfounded Daschle asked.
“I’m not, but he is,” Hindery replied.
All right, Daschle said. I’ll take it to Barack. But with the victory in Iowa now gusting at his back, Obama rejected the entreaty out of hand.
The day before the South Carolina primary, Edwards tried again, with Hindrey telling Daschle, “John will settle for attorney general.”
“Leo, this isn’t good for John,” Daschle replied. “This is ridiculous. It’s going to be ambassador to Zimbabwe next.”
Obama wasn’t impressed: “When Obama heard about the suggested quid pro quo, he was incredulous. That’s crazy, he told Axelrod. If I were willing to make a deal like that, I shouldn’t be president!”