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Plouffe Book: Bill Clinton Doomed Hillary's VP Chances, Obama Predicted Palin Choice Debacle

5 years ago
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The juiciest parts of advance excerpts from the new book by David Plouffe, President Obama's 2008 campaign manager, concern the vice presidential selection process in both parties. Obama seriously considered Hillary Clinton but concluded Bill Clinton posed too many complications, Plouffe writes. He also credits Obama with predicting why Republican John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin ultimately would backfire.

Plouffe's book, "The Audacity to Win," is due in stores Tuesday. The author will be on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday; the excerpts are out now in Friday's edition of Time magazine. The advance peek offers an insider's view of the campaign -- chaos, fear, and what went into decisions such as choosing a running mate and making the big speech on race in Philadelphia in spring 2008.

Plouffe says Obama was "intrigued" by Hillary Clinton and quotes Obama: "I still think Hillary has a lot of what I am looking for in a VP," he said to us. "Smarts, discipline, steadfastness. I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the relationship." (That's one of many direct quotes; it's unclear in the excerpts whether Plouffe was relying on memory, notes or tapes).

Plouffe was on the front lines, responding nearly every day to assertions from Clinton strategists that Obama couldn't win big states, couldn't win white votes, couldn't win blue-collar votes, and the like. His take on the VP chronicles: "Some in the Clinton orbit thought we gave Hillary short shrift. My view is that any serious consideration was somewhat surprising given all the complications and the toxicity during the primary campaign."

When Palin was chosen, the Obama campaign got valuable insights from adviser Anita Dunn, who had worked for Palin's opponent in the 2006 Alaska governor's race. Her bottom line: Not much substance, but lots of talent. "She'll be a phenomenon for a while," Dunn said.

Obama's analysis was even more prescient, as Plouffe describes it. He quotes Obama as saying, "The short term will be good for them. But when voters step back and analyze how he made this decision I think he's going to be in big trouble. You just can't wing something like this -- it's too important."

Among the other VP nuggets:

-- By early August, the VP list was down to three names. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was eliminated because he lacked foreign policy experience. Obama also had concluded that "Barack Hussein Obama is change enough for people. I don't have to convince people with my VP selection that I am serious about change."
-- Delaware Sen. Joe Biden opened his interview with a 20-minute monologue to Plouffe and top strategist David Axelrod, who couldn't get a word in edgewise. "It confirmed what we suspected," Plouffe writes. "This dog could not be taught new tricks. But the conversation also confirmed our positive assumptions: his firm grasp of issues, his blue collar sensibilities and the fact that while he would readily accept the VP slot if offered, he was not pining for it."
-- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh gave answers that were "substantively close to perfect, if cautiously so...I thought, There's no way this guy will color outside the lines. Biden may cross them with too much frequency. Biden will probably end up having more range -- he can reach higher heights but could cause us real pain." In the end, as we know, Obama took that chance and went with Biden.

There was one day in the campaign that many of us (and the campaign as well) remember as "taking out the trash" day. Obama had scheduled two-hour meetings with the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times to answer any and all questions they had about his relationship with Tony Rezko, the real estate developer and political fundraiser under indictment on corruption charges. But inflammatory excerpts from Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons were exploding across the media the same day, and the campaign decided to have Obama do TV interviews on Wright right after the Rezko meetings.

"It shaped into quite a day, like having your legs amputated in the morning and your arms at night. The question was whether we would still have a heartbeat at the end of the day," Plouffe wrote. "It was chaos and, quite frankly, frightening. I felt as if the wheels could easily spin off our whole venture."

Obama was "the pillar of reassurance," Plouffe writes, and he did pull it off reasonably well. But he decided it wasn't enough and insisted on writing and giving a major speech on race within a few days. Plouffe said the idea was "fraught with peril. If it was off-key, it could compound our problems."

Obama said he knew what he wanted to say because he'd been thinking about it for nearly 30 years. He offered to pull all-nighters to get it done. And as we know, it not only got done, it was so well received that the candidate lived to fight many more days.

Update: ABC's George Stephanopoulos has a copy of the book and lists "10 revealing nuggets." Among them: Obama hated campaigning and John Edwards is "craven." More surprisingly, given the generally good reviews and indisputably good outcome of the campaign, Plouffe pleads guilty to failing to prepare an adequate strategic response to the Wright revelations and an even bigger "systemic failure" to research Wright and the rest of Obama's background in advance.

"We were in denial" about Wright, Plouffe wrote. "In any competitive enterprise, you need to know everything your opponent knows about you and limit the number of surprises by getting out damaging information about yourself before it can be used to sucker punch you."
Filed Under: Joe Biden, Campaigns
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