Mark Halperin Talks Big Personality Politics
When you and John Heilemann started writing Game Change, what were your intentions?
Even for people who watch a lot of cable TV, read newspapers and magazines, it's hard to get a sense of what a presidential campaign is like if you're not in the room. Our goal was to take people inside the rooms, the meetings, the controversies and the back and forth in the campaign to explain to people the high human drama that always exists in presidential campaigns ? but existed more than ever in 2008, given the personalities involved and the stakes.
Did the cast of characters involved make for an obvious book?
Our joke, while we were writing the book, was if Rudy Giuliani is the seventh most interesting candidate in a race, you know you've got an interesting group of candidates. You had people in this race who were just as likely to show up with Oprah Winfrey or on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, as they were to be on C-SPAN. It was politics with big personalities and a big, contested election. The whole country was watching. The whole world was watching.
The book is anonymously sourced. Why was that?
The only way to get these kind of stories-the behind the scenes drama of a campaign like this-is to give people the anonymity that's required. It doesn't mean you lower your standards. All the interviews for Game Change were conducted on what we call "deep background." By giving people the promise their participation would be kept confidential, we were able to tell lots of the history of this incredible campaign that otherwise never would have come out. We had to double-check, triple-check everything they told us, but we would never quote them by name. If we found something we weren't sure about, if there were five people in a meeting, and four of them told one story and one of them told another, we erred on the side of caution and left it out of the book because we wanted it to be bullet proof. We wanted the story of the book to be the book and not any controversy about whether we did our jobs correctly or not.
And yet you have a lot of dialogue in the book.
Whether you're writing a book or a movie, dialogue is a great way for people to get a window into what people are like. So we went for specific dialogue as much as we could based on recordings, contemporaneous notes, people whose memories we were confident were accurate. And much of it-given how people's memories fade-would have been lost to history if we hadn't been able to do those interviews at the time we did them. But again, we always erred on the side of caution.
Can you give us some background about Senator McCain's decision to choose Sarah Palin?
McCain turned to Sarah Palin-someone he didn't know very well, someone who was totally unknown to the country, someone whose qualifications to be a heartbeat away from the presidency would be questioned-because he thought it would reinforce the positive parts of his brand as a "maverick," as someone who would put country first.
Thus, the "fateful" decision.
When Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate, she wasn't well known and she didn't have a national brand. In the short?term, her brand was about excitement and surprise, about being someone who was an accessible politician ? middle?class, not wealthy, a working mother. But before long, her brand was polluted by [Tina Fey's] caricature of Sarah Palin, the bad interview with Katie Couric.
Would there have been any way for her to recover from those two black eyes?
If Sarah Palin had been well known, she would have had a chance to get back control of her public image. But those two iconic moments really filled in the perception of her. Whether you are in politics, sports, entertainment, business, your public image can be undermined with one mistake because it can be amplified and played over and over again. And Sarah Palin had to deal with that. And she is dealing with that, to this day.
Did it ever occur to Palin to turn down the offer?
People ask us all the time, "Why didn't Sarah Palin say no? Why didn't she anticipate that she wouldn't be ready?" There is a certain politician that says, "If I get the chance to grab that brass ring, I am gonna do it." Sarah Palin was offered the opportunity of a lifetime, and she had the confidence and the audacity to take it.