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on August 6, 2013
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:

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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:

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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 investors were seen as the best way to grow the economy for all ("a rising tide lifts all boats.") But the economy failed in 2008 despite the prior years of tax cuts for investors and partial deregulation of the financial industry. Rightly or wrongly, voters became skeptical of Romney's economic agendas. Romney became a man out of his time.

I also thought of Mitt as being like a human transceiver. --- picking up whatever signals are around him, amplifying them, and rebroadcasting 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, perhaps 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 with vouchers?

Obama, in contrast, was consistent in the things he advocated for. 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.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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on December 3, 2013
In Collision 2012, chief correspondent of the Washington Post Dan Balz examines the 2012 presidential election, its candidates, its would-be candidates, and its impact on future elections. Balz crafts an engaging narrative for the election by utilizing information from hundreds of interviews with the candidates, key campaign staff, and citizens. In addition to providing an extremely detailed look into the nuts and bolts of the campaigns, the book also depicts major world events that occurred throughout the campaign period and their impact on the candidates' strategies and the eventual outcome. Balz provides ample background information about all things election related, from Super PACs to Occupy Wall Street to rich biographical information about the candidates. Collision 2012 makes very few assumptions about the reader's prior knowledge, making the book easily understandable even for readers that may not be well-versed in politics or keep up with current events.

Balz begins the book with brief snapshots of the election's key players, the President, the Challenger, and the People, that set the stage for the rest of the book. These snippets provide context by detailing the relevant facts affecting the election, such as the unemployment rate and voter frustration with the economy, giving the reader a window into the minds of the candidates and electorate at the time stamped on each passage. In addition to living up to its title, aptly named "Contrasts," by showing the clear differences between the candidates and the people, it also provides an excellent look at some of the key issues facing the nation and the candidates. Overall, this section served as an effective introduction to the book by framing the key questions at the core of the 2012 election and by providing a rich backdrop of information for the reader to be ready to jump right into the campaigning sections.

Collision 2012 is broken down into three sections, referred to as Books, each with a different narrative focus. Book One: The Pivot acts as both an introduction to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by providing detailed biographical information on them, as well as detailing how Obama and his team transitioned from their victory in 2008 into preparing for the battle in 2012. Although Book One does provide some information on Romney, his team, and their activities, the tone and the construction of the narrative feel as if they are being told from the Obama team's perspective. Keeping in mind that the book was composed based on a collection of hundreds of interviews, this approach to conveying the information is very engaging as it gives the reader the impression that they are following a coherent story in which all of the events are tied together.

Book One is the shortest of the three, weighing in at less than one fifth of the book. Given Obama's position as the incumbent and the outcome of the 2012 election, it is understandable that such a small part of the book would be devoted to him. Logistically, it would have been much more difficult to conduct interviews with the President and his staff compared to potential candidates and their teams. Moreover, since stories tend to be more compelling from the side of the challenger and because Balz aimed to create an engaging narrative, focusing disproportionately on Obama's side while the Republicans were divided amongst primary candidates would have taken the wind out of the story's climax. Keeping the background information on Obama's team brief can also be seen as a sign of respect for the reader's time, who may or may not have read Balz's previous book, The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election. However, that is not to say that Book One exists as an obligatory filler section just to have the President covered in some way. Chapter 2 in particular presents a discussion on Obama's worldview and differences in how he presents himself that is both stimulating and relevant throughout the rest of the book.

While Book One tells the story from the Obama team's perspective, the narrative shifts in Book Two: The Republicans to center on the rise and fall of the Republican primary candidates. Rather than shifting the perspective between candidates, Balz establishes Romney as the protagonist from the beginning and even the chapters that focus on the other potential candidates are still are told from the perspective of him and his team. This section opens by giving the reader a highly detailed account of the Romney family's struggle to decide whether or not Mitt should run again. Romney's reluctance to run was an issue from the very beginning and was a recurring theme throughout the entire process. His experience in the 2008 election, belief that he was most qualified to take the Republican nomination, and belief that the country was going down the wrong path led him to go on to pursue a goal that he was not sure he truly wanted.

Book Two is the heart of Collision 2012 both in terms of the nature of the content covered and its length, which is almost half of the book. Given his experience and the resources at his disposal, Romney was widely considered to be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. As a result, Romney does not take center stage as an active player until the latter half of the section. The first half sets Romney up as a detached observer of the lesser known candidates vying for prominence, but the reader is still given the sense that the story is unfolding from the perspective of Romney and his team. Additionally, Balz does an exceptional job demonstrating the growth in scope of each of the Republican primary candidates' campaigns from the beginning to the final debates between the last remaining competitors. The reader is able to easily get a sense of the tough choices that the campaigns have to make, such as where, when and how much to advertise in certain areas and whether or not to devote resources to participating in straw polls. Book Two is also where Balz's storytelling shines the brightest, specifically in Chapter 10 in which he regales the reader with the tale of Chris Christie. While brief, Balz is able to capture both Christie's larger than life aura perceived by his supporters as well as his vulnerabilities seen by his family. Momentum builds throughout the chapter as Christie debates with himself about whether or not to run despite his reservations, and finally crescendos with his endorsement of Romney.

Book Three: The Choice makes yet another shift in narrative style, this time to a perspective disconnected from both the Obama and Romney camps. It can be reasoned that the observer tone that Balz uses in this section is supposed to be representative of the People as to mirror the President, Challenger, People format utilized in the Contrasts section in the book's opening. That style was particularly useful in this final section as the focus shifts between Obama and Romney throughout the chapters and even back and forth within some of the latter chapters. With the primary battles complete, these final chapters detail the public opinion and impact of the major components of the presidential campaigns, including Romney's process of selecting a running mate, influential advertising, the debates, the conventions, and Romney's infamous 47 percent comment. Even though the reader begins Collision 2012 already knowing how it all ends, Balz's storytelling remains fresh and engaging to the very end, which is a testament to the quality and depth of the interviews at his disposal as well as his writing ability. Balz closes Book Three with an interview with Romney that provides insight into the reasoning behind some of the more questionable campaign choices that his team made as well as how changes in the political environment influenced their plans.

Following Book Three, Balz brings Collision 2012 to a close with an epilogue that examines the impact of the election on the future. Balz argues that the election solved little and changed the minds of few Americans. Obama remained president, the Democrats continued to hold the Senate, and the Republicans continued to hold the House; this election cycle had been an expensive exercise in maintaining the status quo with billions spent and power still distributed along the same lines in Washington. The electorate remains as divided as before with partisan polarity growing ever stronger. Balz goes on to explain that as cultural trends continue to change throughout the country, such as opinions on same-sex marriage and immigration, if Republicans continue to alienate growing portions of the electorate and are unable to adapt as the Democrats have, the party will risk implosion. All of those points are clearly demonstrated throughout the book through the interviews; it does not even take a little prodding by Balz to drive his points home. All in all, Collision 2012 is a marvelous retelling of the 2012 election and provides a wealth of information about the candidates and the events that shaped the election. While constructed as a coherent and engaging narrative, Balz quite literally allows the key players to speak for themselves through the plethora of direct quotes and interviews used to create the book, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about the events that occurred.
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on September 15, 2013
Dan Balz and the Washington Post did some great shoe-leather reporting on the Republican primary campaign and the following Presidential election throughout 2011 and 2012. "Collision 2012" does an admirable job of collecting that reporting into a single volume, which, while it doesn't read like a novel, does positively zip by and serve as kind of a "greatest-hits" collection of the 2012 campaign.

Almost all your favorite notes from 2011 and 2012 are in here: notable missteps by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick "Oops!" Perry, and Newt Gingrich; Mitt Romney's string of gaffes on the campaign trail and the infamous "47% video", and the contradictory advice and just plain-old lack of preparation that led to Barack Obama's snooze at the podium during the first general election debate in Denver last October.

At the beginnings, Balz writes: "It was not an uplifting campaign by any stretch of the imagination. At times the plain nuttiness of it all cried out for Hunter S. Thompson to chronicle it." True words, very true words.

But what "Collision 2012" is NOT, is another Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. No new stories are broken by this book, no interesting gossip, no real revelations. Instead, "Collision" works best as a guided tour of last year's election. I'm quite confident that Double Down: Game Change 2012 will provide more shock and leave a more lasting impact (if not another HBO movie).

Balz does have excellent access, and it shows. Unique to this book is a final chapter based on the author's personal one-on-one post-Election Night interview with Mitt Romney. This is a fascinating read, with Romney defiantly unapologetic about why he lost the election, or even about the "47%" comment, still seemingly in denial about what he actually said on tape. Here's a hint to Mitt: a Presidential candidate should never be heard to utter the words "those people" about his opposition's voter base, even if you think you're at private event and that the mic is not hot.

Also fascinating is the Chris Christie stuff. Christie essentially gets to write his own chapters in the book, regarding the failed effort to draft him as a Presidential candidate, and then about his efforts to preserve his keynote address at the Republican National Convention. You're never going to write a dull, dry, dusty book about politics, if you let Christie write his own material.

So "Collision 2012" is not deep and there's not a whole lot that's new here, but even as just a slideshow of the wackiness of the last Presidential election cycle, it's really a lot of fun to read. And we're still almost two months away from the release of "Double Down", so why not pass the time with Dan Balz's book instead?
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on September 28, 2013
Unless you were out of the country or in a coma during the 2012 presidential election you will find very little interesting about this book. It basically skips over some of the lessor republican candidates and just regurgitates the news headlines from the 2012 season. Very few behind the scenes or interesting off the record commentary. This is all done very safe and formulaic so that no one is offended and no bridges were burned for the next season's access. Honestly the only things that I learned at all were some conversations with Chris Christy about his decision not to run. All in all this was a big let down, the positive reviews here really confuse me, are people that easily impressed? If your expecting something along the lines of "Game Change" you're going to be in for a disappointment. Unless you have amnesia skip this book!
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on September 8, 2013
There's a serious advantage in reading a book describing an election, written by an outsider rather than an insider - the outsider rarely has as much of an agenda. In this case, Dan Balz provides an excellent description of the 2012 presidential elections - the Republican primaries and the general elections. The book contains both the big story arcs - the Democrats' efforts at defining Romney and Romney's attempts at casting Obama's record in a certain light (it is a sad reflection on all of us, the voters, that the campaigns deemed this a more effective tool than presenting their candidates and their own ideas). The book also contains some anecdotes from the campaign trail, such as Romney's son's apology to Obama after expressing he wanted to punch him - an apology gracefully presented and gracefully accepted.

I walked away from this book, thinking that Mitt Romney is by far a nicer person than he was made out to be (then again, I thought he was a very decent guy to begin with). I still think that while presenting some valuable arguments (mostly, the unsustainability of our debt), his loss reflects the fact that the majority of America believes that both on economic and especially social issues (women's rights, gay rights and immigration), Romney and the Republicans are currently on the wrong side of history. That, and the fact that Obama's campaign ran an incredible ground game that will be the model for all future elections.
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on August 30, 2013
This is one of the best presidential campaign books I have ever read since the Teddy White's "Making of the President" series. The facts in the book are sourced, the interviews are taped and accurate and no one from either political party has challenged the factual statements in the book. Balz had amazing access to the leading political candidates from both parties and their political hired hands who gave him lengthy interviews during the most pressure-packed moments of their campaign. I can only assume that Balz must be highly respected by both right-wing and mainstream political professionals. Most interesting is to read the interviews with candidates prior to their announcements, during and afterwards. The statements they make during these pre, during and post interviews are a combination of spin and scam. They are most candid, of course, after their candidacy crashed and burned. Even Romney's post election interview still shows a ting of "I can't believe I lost." Clearly, campaign methods have changed, but I wonder if any campaign will ever have the time and money to replicate what Obama's people did in 2014.
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on February 18, 2015
I'm supposed to expect delivery soon, but I already got the book and read it. An excellent account of the 2012 Romney loss to the president. Balz really zeroes in on Romney's campaign disadvantages to a sitting president who already had a huge grass roots operation on the ground and ready to go from Day One of the presidency. Romney's mistakes are pointed out as well, but Balz really showed how an Obama victory was almost certain because of the efficiency and preparation of his campaign staff. He did have to do well in the last of the 3 debates, and he did. Romney never got over the rich Mormon pretty boy image, a man who had no idea what ordinary people went through every day trying to make ends meet.
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on August 20, 2013
But if you followed the 2012 campaign closely, there might not be enough new in here to merit your money. Many news outlets have already reported the nuggets found in Balz's reporting, and those are the only new things to learn from reading the book. For the more sane amongst us, this is a great read with a lot of good insight into 2012. For those of us who follow politics obsessively, there simply isn't enough new in here to recommend. The writing is crisp and the book is well-paced, however, and merits 4 stars.
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on August 29, 2013
News junkies may worry that they won't learn anything new from this account, but Balz does an excellent job of revealing the larger lessons of this election:
1) demographics matter
2) research and data matter (how else will you know the demographics?)
3) people matter--"ground" forces are not a small detail you can leave to planning after a convention
4) debates and conventions still matter, even if they seem quaint and provide more entertainment than enlightenment
5) there are no "private" comments in a world where every phone is a camera--every gaff will go viral.
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on September 8, 2013
This book has the same problems as his last book The Battle for America: The Story of an Extraordinary Election. It is competently told, hitting all the highlights of the election, but the author manages to drain all the drama, excitement--even craziness--from the election process. Additionally, for those who kept up at all with the election as it was unfolding, not much new is revealed here. Perhaps a great read for those with short-term memory loss.
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