"In these books, we have a singular focus: We're trying to write about the high human drama of running for president." This is how John Heilemann, co-author of presidential election sagas Double Down and Game Change, explains his work as a journalist in the above video interview for the Ask Washington Anything series. He and his co-author, Mark Halperin, are known for extracting inside information from campaign staffers in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections—last year, they conducted 500 interviews with more than 400 people in their research for Double Down.
In the interview, Halperin and Heilemann prove themselves quite the pair: They often finish each others' sentences, speak in sync, and chuckle at their own jokes. They also show off their political savvy, reflecting on what went wrong with the Romney campaign and offering their short list for potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016. Halperin names a few surprising choices, but no matter who gets nominated, he says, Republicans face a tough election. "This is a party that's in trouble," Heilemann adds.
How Does It Work?
On December 9, Reddit's general manager Erik Martin invited members of the site's Politics community to submit and vote on questions for the authors. We asked Heilemann and Halperin to answer the 10 most popular questions (and we condensed and ordered those questions to optimize the flow of the conversation). As it happens, due to a delayed train and Washington's tendency to become paralyzed by a few inches of snow, the authors only had time for the first six questions, listed below.
1. madfrogurt asks: In Double Down, you write that the "size and sweep of Obama's victory staggered the Romneys and their people." Was the Romney information bubble so constrictive that there wasn't one person in the entire Romney camp who had been following Nate Silver's detailed analyses, which correctly predicted an Obama Electoral College landslide?
2. Fernando-poo asks: Do you think it's a mistake to focus so much on the political horse race? Although "left" and "right" are represented in mainstream TV shows, the discussion takes place within a very limited range. Meanwhile the rest of the country is increasingly angry at the refusal to address issues like growing joblessness and rising inequality. Is it possible that books like Game Change and Double Down, by focusing on the minutiae of politics rather than the issues affecting Americans, are actually contributing to this problem?
3. ShellOilNigeria asks: How do you feel about what has happened to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, in relation to Public Spying and our Constitutional Right to Privacy via the 4th Amendment?
4. evehunter12 asks: What do you think the Republican party's presidential candidate list will look like in 2016? Are there some you see as having more political capital than others?
5. madfrogurt asks: I've figured that some staffers you interviewed for Double Down must have been fans of Game Change. Did any of them tell you flat out that there were moments during the 2012 campaign that they were looking forward to leaking to you for your inevitable follow up book?
6. TheMike123 asks: Whose idea was it to for republicans to support the birther movement?
7. sethfic asks: What is your take on the book This Town by Mark Leibovich?
8. garyp714 asks: Could you guys comment on the Politico / Mike Allen payola scandal? A lot of the internet feels like mainstream media entities have veered toward a form of pay for play access and have a way too cozy relationship to politicians and corporations alike. Is this an era of “yellow journalism”?
9. mesodude asks: Mark Halperin, please cite the passage of the ACA that discusses the Obamacare "death panels" you recently referred to on Steve Malzberg's Newsmax show.
10. babrooks213 asks: In your latest book, much was made of Republican polling and Democratic polling, yet Nate Silver wasn't mentioned at all. In the month leading up to the general election, his polling predictions dominated the media landscape. Karl Rove's infamous meltdown on Fox was similarly omitted from your book, despite lengthy passages on how he established himself as the GOP's mover-and-shaker leading up to the election. Could you shed some light on why those weren't part of your book?
What's That Handwritten Sign?
AMA contributors often take a photo of themselves with handmade signs to put a face to their typewritten answers (and provide identity verification). Bill Gates, for example, made a particularly nice sign for his AMA. We didn't technically need to verify any of the interviewees' identities since these conversations are captured on video—but we still thought the signs looked cool.