Balz on Obama, Romney, Kissinger and Christie

Al Kamen
Columnist August 1, 2013

When last we worked at length on something about Henry Kissinger , he was a secretary of state on his knees in the White House, praying beside President Richard Nixon shortly before the latter’s resignation 39 years ago next week.

Now he’s back, a third of the way into our colleague Dan Balz’s excellent new book, “Collision 2012,” and he’s leaning on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run for president during the summer of 2011.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Christie demurred.

“You can do this,” Kissinger said.

“I haven’t given any deep thought to foreign policy,” Christie protested.

“Don’t worry about that,” Kissinger assured. “We can work with you on that.”

“Foreign policy is instinct, it’s character,” he explained, “that’s what foreign policy is.” (It also helps if you can find Iraq on a map.)

Billionaire financier Ken Langone asked Christie to a breakfast at the Rocker Club in Manhattan. Christie expected a small group. Sixty people showed up. John Mack (former Morgan Stanley CEO), David Koch and others were on speakerphone.

If Christie ran, Langone said, “everyone in this room has committed [to] raise every dollar you need . . . to have a successful campaign. You won’t have to worry about raising money.” (That sure would make things easier.)

Kissinger was there to speak for everyone and to urge Christie to run.

George W. Bush called Christie later. Barbara Bush called Christie’s wife.

But in the end, of course, Christie said no.

The behind-the-scenes reporting throughout — heck, the Christie chapter alone — makes the book a must-read. Balz takes us quickly through the memorable GOP primaries with Rick “Oops” Perry and the improbables, until Mitt Romney, battered, hurting for cash and thoroughly boxed in on immigration, finally emerges.

“He came out of the primaries with liabilities and did nothing of note to erase them during the heat of the summer,” Balz writes.

Throughout that summer, the fearsome Barack Obama juggernaut, with many months, even years, to marshal its forces, blasted away with negative — not to mention distorted — ads seeking to portray Romney as an out-of-touch, heartless plutocrat.

The infamous “47 percent” secret video, released in September, obviously didn’t help counter the impression — something Romney alluded to in a post-election interview with Balz when he talked about “a lousy September” vs. “a great October.” That October he clobbered Obama in the first debate, unified and energized his base, and held his own in the next two debates.

Obama, who appeared to have suffered a stroke during the first debate — a common first-debate malady for incumbent presidents, with the exception of Bill Clinton — was able to recover some in the next two debates.

In the interview, Romney cited the late drop in unemployment below 8 percent — which changed the critical “wrong track”-vs.-“right track” perception for voters — and Hurricane Sandy as key factors for his loss.

Asked about immigration, Romney said he had decided “I’m not going to make this a campaign about immigration.”

The problem, as Balz analyzes, is that Latinos may have thought differently. “Obama won Florida by a point,” he writes, “by winning the Hispanic vote, including the Cuban American vote.” In Colorado, Obama’s margin among Latinos “leaped” from 23 points in 2008 to 52 points last year, “a reminder of the crippling Republican deficit among the nation’s fastest-growing minority group.”

In the end, “the election turned out almost precisely the way the team in Chicago had predicted,” Balz reports, and the way most polls predicted, with Obama winning by 51 percent to 47 percent.

“Campaign 2012 settled little,” he concludes. “Billions were spent to produce a status quo outcome in the balance of power in Washington.”

But it was a fascinating ride, which Balz captures vividly in this most worthy sequel to “The Battle for America 2008,” written with the late Haynes Johnson.

Initial doubts

We recently checked in on some of the more interesting bill names circulating around Congress, particularly on the immigration front — and that kicked up some discussion about acronyms.

First, we should note that the Senate this week was debating what’s known in conversations around the Capitol as “THUD.”

Technically, it’s the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. But THUD will do. Usually, as we’ve noted, bill names are crafted to help sell the merits of a piece of legislation.

But THUD? As in the onomatopoeic “landed with a”? It also sounds suspiciously like “dud.” Perhaps that’s why it failed.

In the category of most tortured acronym among recent bills, a Loop fan nominated the MOBILE Resolution, which stands for Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, would allow members of Congress to cast votes remotely. (Our reader quibbles that the bill doesn’t really “Link Everyone,” just lawmakers.)

Talk about a thud.

For its sheer cleverness factor, another Loop fan likes the EGO act, the “Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting Act,” which, as we’ve noted, would ban funding for official portraits.

And yet another Loop fan, a former congressional aide, recalled that immigration bills of yore also bore some names that formed incredibly tortured acronyms.

They included Rep. Tom Tancredo’s REAL GUEST Act of 2005 (“a complicated acronym . . . and bill,” the former aide remembers). It’s mouthful of a full name: Rewarding Employers that Abide by the Law and Guaranteeing Uniform Enforcement to Stop Terrorism Act.

And we can only imagine the amount of staff hours that went into coming up with the title for the OVERDUE Immigration Reform Act of 2007, aka the Optimizing Visa Entry Rules and Demanding Uniform Enforcement Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

Forget Senate bean — it seems alphabet soup is always on Congress’s menu.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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