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74 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More contemplative, keener insight into the candidates but still disspiriting
Longtime Washington Post columnist Dan Balz builds on his earlier e-book Obama vs. Romney: "The Take" on Election 2012 (The Washington Post) with a more insightful and contemplative review of the 2012 campaign looking at what happened, what went wrong, the ups and downs, and what the larger meaning of the election is for the future. Balz certain does break some news by...
Published 11 months ago by Todd Bartholomew

versus
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing much new and boring too
I'm something of a political junkie and was eagerly awaiting this book. As a subscriber to the Washington Post. I read Dan Balz's columns during the election and feel that he didn't do much more than regurgitate them here. It's a long boring slog. The author doesn't even get to the general election until about page 300. There are 27 chapters in the book and many read...
Published 10 months ago by Stanley R. Schneider


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74 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More contemplative, keener insight into the candidates but still disspiriting, August 6, 2013
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
Longtime Washington Post columnist Dan Balz builds on his earlier e-book Obama vs. Romney: "The Take" on Election 2012 (The Washington Post) with a more insightful and contemplative review of the 2012 campaign looking at what happened, what went wrong, the ups and downs, and what the larger meaning of the election is for the future. Balz certain does break some news by indicating Mitt Romney wasn't sold on running for President a second time and considered staying out before he threw his hat in the ring. While he was still in the exploratory phase of his campaign in May 2011 Romney realized the folly of having to defend the healthcare law he passed in Massachusetts as governor while at the same time attacking the Affordable Care Act Obama passed, and which largely copied Romney's plan. Romney also realized his wealth and how he acquired it would also factor into the class warfare debate likely to be used as a wedge issue in the election. Even before then Romney had polled his family about running in 2012 and overwhelmingly they voted against the idea as did Romney; only his wife Ann and son Tagg voted in favor of him running. Balz also describes the efforts by Ken Langone to draft New Jersey Governor Chris Christie into running that were sold as a "small gathering" that instead was 60 influential and wealthy Republicans. Balz captures Romney's lack of political acumen and sensitivity such as regarding his "self deportation" comments on immigration which Democrats used to bludgeon him with, indicating he had no idea the phrase would cause such blowback. The same was true of his 47% comment and both were symptomatic of a candidate largely incapable of self-censoring after becoming so conditioned to the messaging he was sending to party faithful in the primaries. Therein lies the sandtrap of our current political system; Romney was running so far to the right in the primaries that when it came to the general election he was still slipping into that right wing messaging. Romney also was fretting over the wrong concerns. Early on Romney was worried about Newt Gingrich gaining a march on him so he diverted resources from contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri to compete more directly against Gingrich in more delegate rich states over the objections of senior staff. Romney's diversion of attention to other candidates who suddenly shot up in the polls was a recurring problem for the campaign until well into the primaries. Rather than appearing confident and assured, Romney came off as unsteady and uncertain until the probabilities were almost unquestionable in his favor. Worse still, his frequent high handedness and dismissive attitude towards his campaign staffers led many to be cowed into submission, refusing to question his ideas and direction. Most switched to autopilot and did what they were told. Others were tentative and uncertain about what Romney wanted and leaned back, waiting for guidance and direction.

Romney's pick of Paul Ryan was a controversial choice as well, with staffers feeling left out of the loop and unsure what to make of it as they scrambled to make more of Romeny's choice of Ryan. Ryan's philosophy of limited government and fiscal restraint seemed a bit at odds with Romney's ill defined political and fiscal policies, leaving Ryan to be the point man for what a Romney administration would be. What unfolds is a race where Romney desperately wanted to move to the center but increasingly couldn't due to Ryan's baggage and Romney's own indecisiveness and numerous faux pas. The public's lack of engagement and general boredom over the choices left them in stasis...disinterested and disengaged, reverting to their default voting positions with neither side appealing to swing voters. Balz is quite good at gutting and dissecting both campaigns and clearly Obama ran the better one although it was clearly lacking in enthusiasm and intensity compared to his 2008 campaign. Romney seems almost disengaged and disinterested by comparison, playing to half empty auditoriums and lack luster crowds with rote scripts that lacked any fire or enthusiasm. Obama largely elected to avoid direct engagement with Romney leaving that to subordinates and other political groups. The few times they debated were largely a draw as both were largely ineffectual. The end result was a largely unenthused and disenchanted electorate deciding to cast their lot with Obama as Romney failed to present a compelled argument for change. By turns depressing, disgusting, and frustrating I can't imagine the emotions Balz must feel covering this slowly unfolding train wreck of a campaign. What's laid out here is a bit soul crushing and dispiriting and I feel like I'm reading the obituary for a vibrant two-party system at all levels. A great read but don't expect to lift your spirits.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A political diary that captures the spirit of the 2012 election, August 6, 2013
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This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
This book is an enjoyable read because it captures the sights and sounds of the critical events that shaped the 2012 general election and the Republican primaries that led into it. Besides Obama and Romney, it gives a good overview of the prominent Republican primary candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul.

It gives a big picture of the candidates and their campaign themes, but also describes the little things that were decisive in shaping the voters' impressions of the candidates. It's right up there in the league of Theodore White's classic THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT (1960,1964,1968,1972) series.

Author Dan Balz tells the anecdotes of human interest that give life to presidential campaigns. One of my favorites is the good-natured exchange between Mitt Romney's son Tagg and the Obamas after one of the debates:

===============
As the debate ended, Tagg Romney went onstage and approached the president. The week before, during a radio interview, he had been asked what it was like to hear his father called a liar repeatedly during the Hofstra debate. Tagg said it made him want to take a swing at the president.

He immediately regretted the comment and wanted to make amends directly: "He was shaking hands and I just leaned in and said, 'Mr. President, I hope you know how sorry I am for what I said. I didn't mean what I said. I would never want to punch you or anybody else and hope you understand it was an expression that was used badly on my part.' He (Obama) looked at me and said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. If someone said that about someone in my family I'd feel the same way. You're just protecting your dad. You'e a good son. I hope my daughters are as protective of me as you are of your dad.' Michelle Obama looked at me and said, 'Thank you for saying that. It means a lot to us.'"
==============

Another one of my favorite stories is about Clint Eastwood's improvised "Empty Chair Debate" at the Republican Convention. One of the Republican media experts thought the unscripted charade was so bad that he literally vomited. I had heard about it but hadn't seen it, so I just now looked it up on Youtube and thought it was pretty good. The convention audience ate it up. The story of the upchucking media operative is amusing because it is one of many anecdotes that illustrate the pressure-cooker atmosphere that campaign managers operate under.

Balz also does a thorough job of explaining the popular backdrop to the election:

==============
People see and feel an economy that is still inflicting pain on them and their families and friends. Anger with politics is palpable.

People see Washington as a swamp of bickering and gridlock. When I ask one couple about Washington...their frustrations spew forth. Republicans and Democrats are going down separate roads that never intersect, the husband tells me. "And if there's a bridge between them," his wife says with evident disgust, "they'll burn it."

A retired electrician warns that public patience is limited. "People are angry and frustrated and have no focal point," he says. "You think the Arab Spring can't happen here? Think again." Another man points to the Occupy Wall Street protests that are then popping up in many cities. "It's kind of like a volcanic gurgle," he says. "The mountain hasn't exploded, but it's rumbling."
===============

The book explains why Romney DIDN'T ride that wave of disaffection to defeat Obama. Perhaps Romney would have been the better choice prior to the 2008 financial collapse when tax cuts for the 1% were seen as the best way to grow the economy for all ("a rising tide lifts all boats.") In the post-2008 world Romney became a man out of his time. A rising tide lifts all boats but a tsunami destroys them --- and the Big Business / Wall Street Cabal that Romney was part of turned out to be a tidal wave of predatory capitalism that was sucking the economic lifeblood out of the middle class.

I thought of Mitt as being like a human transceiver. He picks up whatever signals are around him, amplifies them, and rebroadcasts them. As Governor of Massachusetts he absorbed Liberal vibes. The centerpiece of his governance was the healthcare reform known as "Romneycare." But when he became the Republican standard-bearer he absorbed the Conservative background radiation of "free-markets-are-good, government-is-bad." This made him run like a scared rabbit away from "Romneycare" all his other previous positions in public life.

He was as flexible on the issues as a rubber band. Nobody, including him, had any idea of what he'd do as President. Would he raise taxes or lower them? Would he repeal "Obamacare" or continue its implementation? Would he support gay marriage or oppose it? Would he increase the defense budget or scale it back? Would he maintain Social Security and Medicare, or would he phase them out by voucherizing them?

Obama, in contrast, was consistent in the things he advocated for: reform that makes healthcare affordable for the middle class; modest tax increases on the wealthy that are necessary to close the deficit. He promoted a simple, consistent message that he never wavered from. He did not hem and haw or try to back-peddle when challenged on it. He believed in his message and the majority of voters believed he believed it.

This book describes the difference between the candidates in an entertaining, event-driven narrative of the campaign. It's like a good novel in taking you into the campagn, enabling you to experience its sights and sounds, and making you feel as if you're tagging along with the press at the side of the candidates. I enjoyed the drama of the Republicans fighting it out among themselves in the primaries even more than I did the Romney vs. Obama campaign in the general election. The big drama came down to the "Neocon" wing of the party backing Newt Gingrich against the "Corporate" wing that backed Romney. I also enjoyed reminiscing about some of the colorful events that had slipped my memory --- like Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" at the Republican Convention and Obama's dreadful first debate with Romney.

The only critique of substance is that the "future of elections" in the subtitle turns out to be an abbreviated epilogue. There are some interesting but not especially meaningful speculations on what may be the campaign themes of future elections.

I felt the book was objective in describing the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. It's the kind of "fun to read" book that you want to take on a vacation to read at leisure. It's also great for data-mining by political junkies. It therefore appeals to a general audience and to political enthusiasts.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and Objective -, August 6, 2013
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
Most of Balz's book deals with the Republican side, though there's also some coverage of the new techniques and technologies used by the Obama side. Republicans provided plenty of drama in the primaries, with a colorful cast of characters that included Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, New Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum

Early on (during a 2010 Christmas vacation with family - ten of the 12, including Romney, were opposed) Mitt Romney opposed running for the White House again in 2012, and later even considered pulling the plug after a scathing WSJ op-ed that criticized him for his Massachusetts health plan. Later on others, including Nancy Reagan, David Koch, former president Bush II and secretary of state Henry Kissinger, tried to lure Chris Christie into the race. Christie's response - 'Craziness' - he'd only been governor a few months. Turns out that having Christie as a V.P. partner would have limited Romney's ability to solicit Wall Street contributions because of Christie's status as N.J. governor. Romney asked Christie if he'd be willing to resign to sidestep the SEC regulation, but Christie declined. (Balz suspects that had Christie been selected, Romney may have won.) Regardless, Romney went on to blunder again with his '47%' comment, and then after the election tried to convince author Balz that he 'didn't say that.'

Unfortunately, given that the U.S. is hatefully divided along socioeconomic and party lines, Balz sees the 2012 collision between Obama and Romney as setting the pattern for future contests. He also sees Republicans' veneration of austerity as damaging their ability to attract swing voters, when combined with the new demographics as spelling disaster for their future. Raised, but not answered, is the question of how a data-driven Romney could have deluded himself into believing his victory was assured - even down to election-night. Part of this was Romney's belief that he'd turned the campaign around with his first debate vs. Obama in Denver, somehow forgetting that his performance in the second and especially the final debates was not good. Another low point - Clint Eastwood's speaking off-script to an imaginary Obama in an empty chair.

One of the campaign highlights had to be Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention. Reportedly Clinton doesn't like Obama, but is both a party loyalist and a supporter of Hillary for 2016. Hurricane Sandy also boosted Obama, providing him a free platform on which to appear presidential and figuratively join hands with Christie, already irritated with how the Romney camp had misled him on the V.P. nomination. (Christie, responding to those attacking his 'nonpartisan' actions with Obama after sandy, asked if they wanted him to 'wear my Romney sweatshirt when I was standing with him?'

Balz also reveals that Romney stated he believed Jeb Bush 'might well be able to do what was necessary to get the country on track.'
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Analysis, August 7, 2013
By 
James B. King (the villages, fl United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
I have read most of the books published thus far on the 2012 election and this is by far the best. It is informative and objective while free from the ideology bias that so many of the others contained. The author has set a high bar
for the authors of the forthcoming Double Down
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing much new and boring too, August 25, 2013
By 
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
I'm something of a political junkie and was eagerly awaiting this book. As a subscriber to the Washington Post. I read Dan Balz's columns during the election and feel that he didn't do much more than regurgitate them here. It's a long boring slog. The author doesn't even get to the general election until about page 300. There are 27 chapters in the book and many read like stand alone essays. Having a couple of chapters on whether Obama is a boring person is well...boring. And reading a fifteen page chapter on an asterisk like Tim Pawlenty is mind numbing. In general the author dawdles on the front end,and compresses the general election in the back end, no doubt thinking of his publication deadline. The author spends only a few sentences each on the subjects of Michele Bachmann, Obamacare, and Benghazi, but takes 15 pages to describe the process of selecting Paul Ryan as VP. About the only new thing I learned about in the book was the arguments going on back stage with Chris Christie before he went on stage to give his keynote address at the GOP convention.

The very substantial role played by the new media e.g.; Fox News (which vetted all the GOP candidates at length), AM talk radio, and the internet blogs is never mentioned. There are very few new, juicy revelations in the book. It's obvious the author interviewed all the candidates and personages in the book and didn't want to offend any. You get the feeling he wants to keep his sources intact. The author never reveals an ounce of wit, humor, cynicism, or passion in the book. It's as dry as reading a 340 page Wikipedia entry.

The author is pretty even handed in describing the events, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is for this book. The Romney partisans would probably just as soon forget the whole thing, and the Obama partisans will probably enjoy reading Jonathan Alter's book on the election more, since he leaves no doubt as to whose side he is on.

The author is careful not to give his feelings on many subjects other than the electorate is hopelessly divided and the election solved nothing. Enjoy.

Stanly R. Schneider
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine First Draft of History, August 19, 2013
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
Writing an interesting 2012 presidential election book on the heels of all the hyper campaign coverage is a challenging assignment but Dan Balz pulls it off quite nicely. The great value of "Collision 2012" is its access to the key campaign staff of both the Obama and Romney teams during the heat of the battle. As a result, there is a fine analysis of the strategy and tactics used by both sides. In a time of great political polarization it is a great testament that leaders of both campaigns spent substantial amounts of time during the actual campaign with Balz sharing candid assessments of what they were thinking---if Balz did not have a reputation for accuracy, fairness and pre-election confidentiality, he would not have had such impressive access. After reading his book, his reputation for even-handedness is well deserved.

Balz is especially strong in highlighting some of the strategies employed by Obama to gain an impressive win with the economy is such disarray. Key elements include: 1) maintaining a strong campaign organization at both the HQ and grassroots level from 2008; 2) the cutting edge use of digital technology and "analytics" to identify and get Obama voters to the polls; 3) the huge investment of attack ads during the summer of 2012 that Romney never responded to.

The chapter concerning the fall presidential debates is another highlight. The contrast in debate prep between Romney and Obama is revealing as is how Obama recovered from his first debate fiasco. The use of twitter as the new public square forum for assessing candidate performance is an interesting debate sidelight described by Balz.

My only major disappointment with the book is its such heavy reliance on campaign consultants and strategists that one wonders if the candidates ever interact with other key players in the campaign process such as interest groups, the traditional media, elected officials and, (gasp) actual voters. One wonders after reading Balz's account if presidential campaigns now consist of nothing more than raising $$, convening focus groups, preparing for formal debates and engaging in lengthy campaign strategy sessions. A minor disappointment is the amount of time in the book given to the weak line-up of Republican candidates (Gingrich is quoted at great length as he made himself very accessible to Balz and loves to hear himself pontificate---is it asking too much that Gingrich can be put out to pasture for the '16 campaign??). Alas, I guess these third tier candidates have to be covered but it is a sad commentary on the Republican Party that they couldn't field more capable candidates besides Romney.

But these disappointments don't stand in the way of appreciating what Balz has accomplished: an informative and insightful narrative of the 2012 presidential campaign. This is a fine first draft of history
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cogently argued overview, August 11, 2013
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
I received my uncorrected proof copy of Collision 2012 through the Goodreads first reads giveaway program. I felt like I had paid less attention to the 2012 election than I should have, and Dan Balz's book certainly remedied any ignorance I was concerned I was harboring.

His arguments are cogent but quite cynical. One of his most interesting ideas about an election that he characterizes, as I read it, as disappointingly stagnant is that the ideas presented by both parties were the most stagnant, unresponsive element of the campaign. I think Balz emphasized too much the increased political polarization of the electorate at the expense of this more compelling idea (in my view).

Balz does do an excellent job of citing and discussing some unique aspects of the 2012 political landscape -- the role of social media, especially the peculiar role of Twitter in public discourse about the debates, and of course the role of SuperPAC funding. His analysis is thorough and far-reaching; the book seems very well-researched as far as I can tell.

While this book may not offer as much behind-the-scenes gossip as some others, I definitely found some interesting tidbits.

Altogether, this is a worthwhile read about an important historical moment in our lives.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How so dull?, August 12, 2013
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This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
I admit I am in the minority here, but besides the fact that there was only a little that was new in the book to any political junkie, I found it shocking that a book about the 2012 campaign could be so deadly dull. It wasn't just the long discussions of budget negotiations, or the fact that Balz and Silberman decided to write their chapter about Obama's awful first debate performance by quoting tweet after tweet after tweet, it was the fact that the authors (surprisingly--considering their backgrounds)have such tin ears when it comes to the music of politics. The only outsized voice here is that of Chris Christie--and the fact that he is so well represented whereas Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann are reduced to ciphers is undoubtedly the access he gave the authors. And the authors make the case that this was such an important election on the basis of the mechanics the Obama people employed (the get out the vote operation, social media, etc.)--not because of the issues at stake, which for the authors seem almost inconsequential. Bottom line: This is no "Game Change" by any stretch of the imagination; it is a missed opportunity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not great either, December 8, 2013
A boring account of an exciting campaign. The writing is journalistic in nature with a minimal amount of insight or analysis.

Having just finished a brilliant and compelling read in The Center Holds, this book pales in comparison. It's like reading a bunch of newspaper articles stitched together into a 350 page book. If you had a pulse in 2012, nothing here is new or educational.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courting the electorate., October 15, 2013
By 
Michael G. "mikefromrochester" (Rochester, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America (Hardcover)
Collision 2012 is a straightforward, nonsensationalistic accounting of last year's presidential race. The author, Dan Balz, a veteran reporter for the Washington Post touches the lion's share of relevant bases as he relates the salient points about how the 2012 presidential election unfolded as it did. Balz, at one time or another, had rarefied access to most of the players; candidates, pollsters, senior campaign staff, party strategists, political advisors, media consultants, etc. The inside knowledge derived from the author's many interviews serves to strengthen the veracity of the book's narrative.

Much of what is presented will be quite familiar to those who followed the election closely. There are also a few facts and areas of enlightenment which may be new to many. For example, Balz reports that Romney strategist Stuart Stevens threw up immediately after viewing Clint Eastwood's performance at the Republican nominating convention. He also explains that President Obama's poor showing in his first debate with challenger Romney was, at least in part, the result of advisors encouraging him to be laid back and nonaggressive.

A solidly written, appropriately detailed summary of the 2012 race for the White House. Historians of the future will find it to be an excellent resource.
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Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America
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