Double down, as most people know, is a blackjack term. It’s when you raise the stakes — and the risk — based on the cards in your hand. In Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s blistering insider account of the 2012 presidential race, Double Down: Game Change 2012, it refers to the gambles the candidates took in order to keep their polling numbers high. But it could just as easily describe the authors’ own situation after Game Change, their best-seller about the 2008 election. Not only were the duo now-saddled with their own celebrity — Be careful what you tell them, it’s bound to be published! — but this time around, the narrative lacked Game Change’s leading lady, Sarah Palin.
Fear not. It turns out that notoriety has its benefits, too. Journalists Halperin and Heilemann don’t lack for access, delivering another down-and-dirty account of an election that plays out like high-stakes high school cafeteria politics. There’s Obama’s team focus-grouping the possibility of replacing Biden with Hillary, and there’s the Island of Misfit Toys sideshow of Republican pretenders — Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann — self-immolating under the bright lights. Then there’s the Cain and Abel drama between Romney and Jon Huntsman that reminds you that politics is never just business — it’s personal and petty.
Amply filling Palin’s void is New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who embraces his reputation as Trenton’s Tony Soprano. He slaps Romney around early and often, and his vetting to become the Republican veep turns up tawdry details that will certainly follow him through 2016. In some ways, in fact, Double Down looks less like a sequel to 2008 than a tantalizing prequel to 2016. I?m all-in. A?