By The Washington Post : Sometimes a book is so wanting to take readers behind the scenes that it neglects to spend enough time on the scenes themselves. this is often often so with works chronicling presidential elections, obsessed as they're with the machinations of high-priced operatives, the strategizing of rival campaigns or the “optics” of who stands where on a debate stage. Read enough of them and it gets hard to discern whether that's all the authors prefer to emphasize, or if that's all there really is to ascertain .
“Lucky,” a brisk and detailed account of the 2020 presidential race by political journalists Jonathan Allen of NBC News and Amie Parnes of Capitol Hill , is that the first volume to inform the story of this unusual electoral contest, with several competing works scheduled later this year and into 2022. Four years ago, Allen and Parnes co-authored the best-selling “Shattered,” an examination of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign, during which they placed the blame largely on the ineptitude of the losing side. during this sequel, they're only slightly more generous with the Democratic nominee. Joe Biden won, of course, but mainly because he “caught every imaginable break.” He was the “process-of-elimination candidate,” emerging from a crowded set of more exciting Democratic contenders. He was “lousy in debates and lackluster on the trail,” prevailing despite “a bland message and a blank agenda.” Biden, they argue, got lucky.
The fiasco of the Iowa caucuses, where the app designed to report the results failed miserably, temporarily obscured Biden’s fourth-place showing. “This was a present ,” a campaign aide later explained. Luck returned when rival Democrats like Pete Buttigieg (who ended up winning Iowa) and Mike Bloomberg (who won American Samoa) suffered debate night takedowns by Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren and when Biden survived his own hit from Kamala Harris over his past positions on school busing and desegregation. Fortune smiled again when the whole Democratic Party establishment rushed to Biden’s side after his victory within the South Carolina primary, albeit it had been less about devotion to him than panic that Bernie Sanders might secure the nomination. “On Super Tuesday, you bought very lucky,” President Donald Trump told Biden at their first debate. The Democrat didn't disagree.
But Trump offered his rival some luck, too, when the president did not deal effectively or humanely with the coronavirus pandemic. Allen and Parnes quote then-senior campaign official Anita Dunn, now a White House adviser, discussing how the outbreak affected Biden’s prospects. “COVID is that the neatest thing that ever happened to him,” she told an associate early within the crisis, consistent with the authors. It’s a cynical thanks to regard a disease that might continue to require the lives of many thousands of usa citizens , albeit it had been , they write, what Biden campaign aides “believed but would never say publicly .” Well, it’s public now.
Such blunt, insidery talk is that the lifeblood of “Lucky.” Biden campaign pollster John Anzalone, as an example , worries about the vagueness of his candidate’s speeches. “No one knows what this ‘soul of America’ bulls means,” he complains. At a replacement York event with Black corporate leaders within the fall of 2019, Barack Obama praised Warren’s candidacy and listed several reasons Buttigieg couldn’t win. “He’s thirty-eight, but he looks thirty,” the previous president said, eliciting laughs within the room. “He’s the mayor of alittle town. He’s gay, and he’s short.” And top Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver chewed out fellow adviser Chuck Rocha because the early Nevada primary results came in. “Where are the Latinos? You spent three million dollars. Where are the Latinos?”
A simplistic specialise in identity is clear throughout the Democratic field, with new aides often hired to form staffs look young and more diverse — only to complicate things by, you know, having ideas of their own that diverged from those of entrenched advisers. Allen and Parnes portray a Biden campaign split along “deep fault lines mostly supported generation, race, ideology, and time in Bidenworld.” Biden was within the middle of it, in every sense, hewing to centrist positions on health care, racial justice and enforcement , regardless of the pressures from his campaign team and his party. He might not are “Sleepy Joe,” but he remained “Unwoke Joe,” Allen and Parnes quip. “That was the ugly truth many Democrats had to face within the aftermath of the 2020 election: To beat Trump, that they had to swallow their progressive values and barge an old man who simply promised to revive calm.”
That “simply” may be a little deceptive. The 2020 race transpired against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic, widespread racial-justice protests and threats to American democracy emanating from the presidency itself. In “Lucky,” such context matters largely to the extent that it affects the candidates’ rhetoric and fundraising. As a result, the moments of high drama in “Lucky” can feel small-bore. Should Biden leave New Hampshire and head to South Carolina before the Granite State’s full primary results are announced, thus potentially alienating supporters there for the overall election? and the way do longtime Biden campaign staffers react when the interloping new campaign boss, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, receives a glowing write-up within the Washington Post’s opinion section, complete with a portrait-type photo? “The profile landed just like the mother of all bombs within the war between the Obama veterans and Biden’s primary crew,” Allen and Parnes overwrite.
There are memorable and telling insider moments in “Lucky,” revealing vital negotiations or highlighting simple truths that parties and campaigns would rather obfuscate. for instance , planners of the Democratic Party’s virtual convention considered featuring a national map that might highlight the locations of varied speakers, thus countering the notion that the party was a club for coastal elites only to can the thought once they realized multiple speakers would be broadcasting from Martha’s Vineyard. and therefore the all-important endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was live when Clyburn cornered Biden during a billboard break at a Charleston debate and urged him to vow to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. “This wasn’t offered as a condition of Clyburn’s endorsement, but it had been an expectation,” the authors write, parsing a touch too finely. Biden awkwardly complied.
Unfortunately, Allen and Parnes clutter their story with italicized descriptions of what various players are really thinking at particular moments, a tic that carries over from “Shattered” but that here grows more noticeable. “Obviously, we aren't ready to read minds,” they acknowledge in an author’s note, explaining that they divine such thoughts from first- or secondhand sources, or from “documents that suggest what an individual was thinking.” however , these asides are distracting and sometimes unnecessary. “How the hell can they are doing that?” Trump thought when Fox News called Arizona for Biden on election night. (Yes, we all heard he was upset.) And Warren’s supposed inner monologue before eviscerating Bloomberg on a Las Vegas debate stage closely resembled — no shock — what she said to Bloomberg’s face on national television. Note to political reporters and nonfiction authors: Italics aren't a get-out-of-quote free card.
The most persuasive case that Biden “barely won” the presidency, because the book’s subtitle states, is found not within the details of Allen and Parnes’s reporting but in their description of the election’s final tallies. Yes, Biden received 81 million votes, the foremost in U.S. presidential history, but “many voters didn’t realize how close the president had come to winning a second term.” Allen and Parnes note that Trump’s collective margin of defeat in three states that might have given him an body victory — Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona — was 42,918 votes, but the 77,000-plus votes that cost Clinton Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania four years earlier. that's certainly close.
“Lucky” provides useful detail to know Biden’s victory, albeit the framing isn't particularly novel. What candidate has not experienced some luck or misfortune during an extended presidential bid? just one occasion it'd be a serious health crisis, once more , a self-righteous FBI director. Stuff happens, and therefore the best candidates find out the way to react. “Knowing who he was, and where he wanted to be politically, allowed Biden’s campaign to capitalize when luck ran his way,” Allen and Parnes write in their final pages.In other words, Biden was quite lucky. And for political reporters as for political candidates, spending an excessive amount of time on optics is simply not an honest look.
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