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Two of America’s most perceptive political reporters join forces for an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the race for the White House in POLITICO’s Playbook 2012, a series of four instant digital books on the 2012 presidential election. The first edition, The Right Fights Back, follows the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
The battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination promises to be one of the most hotly contested and closely fought in recent memory, as establishment Republicans, Tea Party favorites, and dark horse insurgents vie to take on President Obama in the November election. In The Right Fights Back, Mike Allen, chief White House correspondent for POLITICO, and Evan Thomas, the award-winning journalist and author of Robert F. Kennedy and The War Lovers, chronicle the dramatic events of this historic campaign as it unfolds.
With exclusive real-time reporting from the campaign trail, The Right Fights Back provides detail, color, and in-depth analysis that take readers beyond the hourly headlines and commentary. From the role of Super PACS and conservative interest groups to the clashes of personality and policy that will define the race to capture the GOP nomination, this is a history-as-it-happens account of the resurgent American right at the crossroads.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Right Fights Back: Playbook 2012 (POLITICO Inside Election 2012)
One of the prerogatives of being POLITICO editor-in-chief is the ability at any time to feel I know what’s really going on in Washington. All I need to do is sidle up to Mike Allen, our senior reporter and the star of our show, and ask, “What’s going on?”
Mike, a friend of two decades since our days as young reporters in Richmond, Virginia, will smile and, custom-designing his stories around what he knows of the specific interests of his audience, announce enthusiastically, “YOU will love this …”
Then will pour forth a torrent of the latest news about high-level maneuverings among familiar names at the White House or Congress or presidential campaigns, along with low-level scuttlebutt about their triumphs and tantrums, break-ups and make-ups, humor and hubris—all the quotidian details that establish these people might be human beings after all.
These conversations with Mike are the pure and unfiltered version of what Mike gives to readers every day in his now famous POLITICO Playbook: the feeling (and even some of the reality) of being an insider.
My reaction to talking with Mike is usually the same: “Man, it would be great to get some of this stuff on the site.” Sometimes we can, or already have. Other times we can’t, or intend to but don’t, or whatever—life rushes by too fast, or it would look strange to order up a whole story just so we can find a home for one juicy morsel.
So some portion of Mike’s tips, like those of other great POLITICO reporters, stays dormant—tantalizing but undeveloped.
The prospect that more of Mike’s reporting and analytical intelligence could be shared with readers was one reason—among many—that we were so intrigued by the idea Random House editor Jon Meacham presented us some months back. His proposal was to write a series of eBooks telling, in serialized form, the story of the 2012 presidential campaign. The hope is that this format will allow the revival of the kind of detail-laden, insider narratives the newsmagazines used to publish immediately in the wake of presidential campaigns. These stories made for arresting special editions of the magazines, and were often expanded to be published in book-length form. Instead of waiting to produce one giant text, why not use the speed and dexterity made possible by digital publishing to produce these accounts in something more like real time?
He also threw in an irresistible bonus: Mike could collaborate with the brilliant writer Evan Thomas, someone all of us in the leadership of POLITICO had known and admired for many years.
Meacham and I are kindred spirits of sorts. We are of the same generation (it turns out he knew my wife, from their shared time at The Washington Monthly, before I did). We both grew up and prospered professionally, he at Newsweek and me at The Washington Post, in what I think of as the media old order—a world in which big and powerful news brands had robust business models and awesome editorial power to set the national agenda. At mid-career, with the old order diminished in some places or crumbled altogether in others, we both face the same imperative to answer the question, “What’s next for our business and the kind of journalism we think is important?”
POLITICO began five years ago, in January 2007, with Mike, Jim VandeHei, and me as co-founders in the newsroom, in large measure out of an urgent desire to arrive at a good and preferably prosperous answer to this question. We found an answer that works for us with a niche publication—producing content aimed at people who share our intense, even obsessive, interest in national politics and the workings of Washington. But our work is forever incomplete. POLITICO’s publisher, Robert Allbritton, and CEO, Fred Ryan, are constantly encouraging us to find new arenas of experimentation. The Random House collaboration is one of those important arenas.
Jon Meacham’s work at Random House is likewise a manifestation of someone obsessing over the question “What’s next?” Like people at POLITICO, he and his Random House colleagues are not content to live their lives in a defensive crouch, squinting longingly through the mist at a fast receding golden era. Far better to aim to create a new golden era based on the abundant publishing opportunities that exist in the here and now.
Optimism in the media business is partly a choice—a matter of willpower. But it is more than that. It is true, undeniably, that the digital age has not on balance been friendly to long-form narrative and argument. The Web has instead put a premium on speed, brevity, and monomania for the story of the moment. No problem with that, I must hasten to add, as editor of a publication that has prospered through speed, brevity, and monomania. But I agree strongly with a view advanced by my colleague Jim VandeHei: these traits, while absolutely necessary on certain types of stories, no longer constitute a distinctive comparative advantage. In the age of Twitter, there are virtually infinite competitors on these fronts. A publication like POLITICO must harness its future to original content that cannot easily be replicated by competitors. We have seen many times of late—most recently during POLITICO’s reporting on Herman Cain’s travails with accusations of sexual harassment—the ability of enterprise reporting to “drive the conversation,” in the parlance of our newsroom, in national politics.
People in the new era, like those in the old era or in any era, like good stories. It is how we understand human experience and human character. This timeless truth is combining with technological advances—iPads and Kindles and their competitors—to make reading in-depth stories in electronic form a far more congenial experience. In sum: long-form narrative may be making a revival in the digital age. At least we are prepared to put some chips on that square.
If this volume works, it is in large measure due to the special chemistry between Evan and Mike. At first, their differences seem most striking. From the magazine world, Evan has been writing stories like this one his entire career. From a newspaper background, Mike grew up telling stories in staccato bursts. But these first-blush appearances can be misleading. Evan has an intensely topical and news-driven sensibility. We need car chases, he would sometimes say when describing what he wanted in the narrative. Mike, meanwhile, beneath his hard-news facade is not simply an in-the-moment reporter but one keenly perceptive of character and the long-term forces that shape any given day’s news.
We see the results of their journalistic rapport on every page of this chronicle of the opening phase of the 2012 contest, with its special emphasis on the Republican side: in the stories of Mitt Romney’s efforts to turn weakness into strength and claim the mantle of inevitability, to Rick Perry’s blastoff and (partial) return to earth as voters and donors alike came to inspect the goods, the Cain imbroglio, and even the fateful decisions of people like Sarah Palin and Haley Barbour not to run for president. As Barbour discovered, there’s nothing quite like reading a campaign “oppo report” on yourself.
What Mike and Evan do in this first volume is what we try to do every day at POLITICO: defend and vindicate traditional journalism and its cardinal values, even while updating the craft for the new age we live in.
That they do it so well is one more reason for optimism—and for more experimentation—about the future of things we care about.
Mike Allen was the Chief White House correspondent for Politico and the author of the popular daily political tip sheet,Politico Playbook. Previously, he served as White House Correspondent for Time and spent six years at the Washington Post, where he covered President George W. Bush's first term, Capitol Hill, campaign finance, and the Bush, Gore, and Bradley campaigns of 2000.
Evan Thomas is the author of nine books: The Wise Men (with Walter Isaacson), The Man to See, The Very Best Men, Robert Kennedy, John Paul Jones, Sea of Thunder, The War Lovers,Ike’s Bluff, and Being Nixon. John Paul Jones and Sea of Thunder were New York Times bestsellers. Thomas was a writer, correspondent, and editor for thirty-three years at Time and Newsweek, including ten years (1986–96) as Washington bureau chief at Newsweek, where, at the time of his retirement in 2010, he was editor at large. He wrote more than one hundred cover stories and in 1999 won a National Magazine Award. He wrote Newsweek’s fifty-thousand-word election specials in 1996, 2000, 2004 (winner of a National Magazine Award), and 2008. He has appeared on many TV and radio talk shows, including Meet the Press and The Colbert Report, and has been a guest on PBS’s Charlie Rose more than forty times. The author of dozens of book reviews for The New York Times and The Washington Post, Thomas has taught writing and journalism at Harvard and Princeton, where, from 2007 to 2014, he was Ferris Professor of Journalism.