Politics

Obama's advisers staged debate intervention, authors reveal

Nov. 4, 2013 at 8:49 AM ET

Video: In their new book “Double Down,” political authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reveal secrets of the 2012 election, including President Obama’s team’s concerns before the second debate and the “tension” between Mitt Romney and Chris Christie.

President Obama’s top advisers staged an intervention two days before the second debate with Republican contender Mitt Romney for fear he was derailing the campaign, the authors of a new political tell-all claim.  

In “Double Down,” Mark Halperin, and John Heilemann say that Obama was continuing down the same disastrous path he forged during his first presidential debate with Romney in 2012, in which he appeared lethargic and long-winded — sending his team into panic mode.

“All the things that had been problematic for (Obama) in Denver, his disdain for Romney, his contempt for Romney — he couldn’t figure out how to deal with that,” Heilemann told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday. “He would say, ‘What am I supposed to do when he starts spewing his BS?’”

Add to that his contempt for the theatrical nature of politics, and Obama was tanking in preparation for the second debate.

Read an excerpt of 'Double Down': How Obama beat the birthers in 2012

“He gave this horrible practice session performance that left (his team) totally stymied about how they were going to fix it before this debate that they thought was, at that point, the crucial thing for reelection,” Heilemann explained.

In what Halperin calls the most “dramatic moment” and toughest scoops they uncovered in their reporting on the Obama administration, the president’s team staged an intervention.  

“Weeks before the election, two days before debate, his aides basically say this is a disaster, we have to go to him and tell him things have to change,” Halperin said. “They ended up having a conversation with him that was emotional, and they changed his debate prep entirely. They told him he had to be ‘fast and hammy’ … and also just one-liners, not the kind of thoughtful disquisition that Barack Obama the former law professor wants.”

As far as drama, few moments compare to Clint Eastwood’s empty chair speech at the Republican National Convention — which not only went viral online, but also literally made one Romney staffer sick.

“No one in Romney’s world was happy with it,” Halperin said. “One of his advisers who was backstage with him, Stuart Stevens, actually left Gov. Romney’s presence to go throw up he was so upset about what was happening. Because it was a big night for Mitt Romney and it was kind of hijacked by Clint Eastwood.”

“Double Down,” which goes on sale on Tuesday, has been making waves since last week, when it was revealed that Obama’s advisers considered swapping Hilary Clinton in for Vice President Joe Biden, even going so far as to secretly poll voters on how that would impact Obama’s chances of winning. 

David Plouffe responded to that claim in a tweet: 

The book also claims that the Romney administration nixed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a running mate because of some “land mines” in his background.

“Mitt Romney was terrified he’d pick someone who would blow up the way Sarah Palin had blown up,” Halperin said. “He wanted no controversy. They found a lot of it and that was a big part of the reason Gov. Romney said you know what, as much as I need a street fighter to win this election, too much risk there.”

Gov. Christie brushed off the authors’ claims Friday, telling NBC New York reporter Brain Thompson that they were just “trying to sell books” and later saying that the duo only spoke with low-level staffers.

Heilemann told Guthrie they talked to staffers from multiple levels, and that the book quotes from the vetting report, “line by line what Romney’s vetters had to say about Chris Christie.” And while Romney spoke highly of the New Jersey governor on “Meet the Press” Sunday, giving him a nod as a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, the authors claim that the two have had a rocky political relationship. 

"One of the things we found in writing both 'Game Change' and this book is politicians are people too; they can have complex relationships," Halperin said.

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