Newsmaker Series Presents Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s ‘Double Down’

The highly anticipated look at the 2012 presidential election is a follow up to the critically acclaimed “Game Change.”

John Heilemann and ark Halperin sit on stage to discuss Double Down
Journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin discussed their new book, "Double Down," at the George Washington University on Thursday. The appearance was the second stop on their book tour.
November 11, 2013

By Brittney Dunkins

To hear journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann tell it, the story of the 2012 presidential election outlined in their new book, “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” is equal parts suspenseful thriller and Shakespearean comedy centering on the Montagues and Capulets of the modern political set, the “House of Clinton” and the "House of Obama.”

They discussed the high-stakes political tale at a Newsmaker Series event co-hosted by independent bookseller Politics & Prose and Lisner Auditorium at the George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium on Thursday.

“We wanted to write this story using journalistic standards but focusing on the high human drama,” Mr. Halperin, senior political analyst at Time and MSNBC, said. “This kind of reporting, we hope, is important to people but also an important part of history.”

Published this month by Penguin Press, “Double Down” is a narrative of the 2012 presidential election assembled from 500 interviews during and after the campaign season with key members of the Republican and Democratic parties, including President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former President Bill Clinton, and other high-profile politicos and staffers.

“We believe our guests tonight fit the ‘newsmakers’ bill,” said co-owner of Politics & Prose Lissa Muscatine as she welcomed the audience of students, faculty, staff and community members to the conversation and book signing.  

 “We feel a great and good fortune to be here,” said Mr. Heilemann, national affairs editor for New York Magazine and political analyst at MSNBC.

“Double Down” serves as a follow up to the New York Times bestseller “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime,” an account of the 2008 election that lifted the veil on the dramatic and sometimes hilarious inner-workings of presidential campaigns.

The critically acclaimed book was turned into a film by screenwriter Danny Strong for HBO in 2012. Directed by Jay Roach, the film features Julianne Moore as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“The subtitle of the last book set the bar kind of high for us,” Mr. Heilemann said, noting that the drama of the 2012 election revolves around a whole new set of elements.

According to Mr. Heilemann, despite the commonly touted belief that President Obama was a shoe-in for a second term, at the time of the 2012 election, his administration was unsure he could maintain his seat in the White House, especially without the support of former President Clinton.

“This book is a romance between the ‘House of Clinton’ and the ‘House of Obama’ but really between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama,” Mr. Heilemann said.

“Double Down” chronicles the courtship between President Obama, who said he enjoyed the former president’s company “in doses,” and President Clinton, who was seeking an opportunity to show-off his political prowess or “fastball,” which some people felt he had lost during the 2008 campaign season, Mr. Heilemann said.

A joint fundraiser hosted by Terry McAuliffe, who had served as a chairman on Ms. Clinton’s 2008 campaign, cemented their partnership when former President Clinton spoke on behalf of President Obama.

President Clinton went on to make nearly 22 political appearances on behalf of the president during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He also delivered a stirring nomination speech at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Heilemann said.

By the time President Obama received the call that he had earned a second term, he and the former president were so close that his first words were, “Get Bill on the phone,” Mr. Heilemann added.

Vignettes such as this are central to the structure of “Double Down,” which seeks to capture the moments that reflect modern day history.

“We had one rule,” Mr. Halperin said. “We only write about what is interesting.”

In developing the new book, the duo hoped to replicate the precision of the earlier effort and capture, as they had with “Game Change,” the feelings and climate of the time.

“The questions that motivate us are questions of empathy,” Mr. Halperin said. “Both of us feel like this is the most rewarding project we have ever worked on,” he added.

Mr. Halperin also said the process was easier this time around given their experience as a writing team, high levels of cooperation from the campaign staff, and the invention of FaceTime, the video-call application designed by Apple.

“I live in a place called Manhattan, and John lives in a place called Brooklyn,” Mr. Halperin joked of the great geographical divide that is the East River.

As for projections for candidates in the 2016 presidential election, both Mr. Halperin and Mr. Heilemann agreed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems poised to enter the race and Vice President Joe Biden would be a compelling entrant.

Mr. Halperin also said that the Republicans need someone magical, someone that can go on the “Tonight Show” and deal with the Tea Party.

But when considering characters for their next book, they had a few creative ideas for potential candidates, including a matchup between Ms. Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and an improbable contest between Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vladimir Putin and a Martian.

Who was at the top of their fictional wish list?

“If you told me former governor Sarah Palin was planning a comeback, I would not be opposed,” Mr. Halperin joked.