Carol Felsenthal
On politics

New Politico Book, ‘Obama’s Last Stand,’ Describes West Wing Chicago Dysfunction

The popular political website’s senior White House reporter has compiled lots of juicy tidbits in Obama’s Last Stand—many from unnamed sources—about the president’s insiders. Among the Chicago players mentioned are Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley, Valerie Jarrett, and David Axelrod…

Obama's Last Stand by Glenn ThrushPolitico is out with the third of its series of ebooks on the 2012 race, this one focused on Team Obama, with all its Chicago connections. (The first two described the bizarre race for the Republican nomination; the last will be out after the election, when we know how this nail-biter  turns out).

The popular political website’s senior White House reporter has compiled lots of juicy tidbits in Obama’s Last Stand—many from unnamed sources—about the president’s insiders. Among the Chicago players mentioned are Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley, Valerie Jarrett, and David Axelrod.

The campaign team exhibits all the lunacy and ugliness usually revealed only after the winner has been inaugurated. But in the age of ebooks, why wait? Below are the most delectable of Thrush’s many points about the Chicago contingent:

+ Although Obama had asked Rahm to remain as chief of staff through the health-care battle, the president was “clearly relieved” when Emanuel left in October 2010 to run for mayor of Chicago.

+ Rahm warned Obama that the Republican Super PACs could kill him and that the president needed to “tap high-octane talent” to create his own. Obama didn’t want to hear about it.

+ Thrush describes Obama’s miscalculation on Super PACs as “arguably the greatest unforced error of Obama’s political career,” and puts the blame not only on Obama’s naiveté/idealism, but also on Obama’s “messaging guru” David Axelrod. “Obama and Axelrod viewed [the Super PAC phenomenon] as a threat to democracy and actively discouraged Democrats from joining the  arms race.”—a position since reversed in the West Wing support for the underwhelming “Priorities Action USA,” but perhaps too late to close the gap with the surging Republican coffers. Thrush reports that early this year, campaign manager Jim Messina dragged Axelrod into his Prudential Building campaign headquarters office and warned him that the Republicans would spend $1.2 billion to defeat Obama.

+ Axelrod’s departure from the West Wing to Chicago was widely reported as Axelrod’s choice. Not so, writes Thrush: “….he enjoyed DC a lot more than he let on. He loved his walk-in-anytime access to Obama, valued his power and had no immediate plans to ditch his Logan Circle apartment.” After the disaster of the 2010 midterms, Obama, who “frequently expressed frustration with the Axe-run communications shop, especially as he was being flayed on health-care reform,” asked senior adviser Pete Rouse to rejigger the operation. Axelrod figured he’d be allowed to linger—and overlap with his replacement, David Plouffe. Axelrod wanted to delay his departure to spring 2011, but he was pushed out at the end of January. “They made it very clear to him that the time to go was now.”

+ Since returning to Chicago, Axelrod’s performance has not always pleased Obama. The president was horrified when he watched Axelrod last May on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston in a stunt, about which Obama had not been consulted, meant to take on Romney and his record as Massachusetts governor in Romney’s campaign headquarters city. The rally went terribly wrong as Axelrod was heckled by Romney staffers screaming “Solyndra!” and “Axel-fraud!” Axelrod lamely responded, “You can’t handle the truth, my friends.” The president would later call the event “a spectacle,” but then, writes Thrush, “he had a good belly laugh at his friend Axelrod’s expense.”

+ Axelrod and Rahm sold Obama on Bill Daley as Emanuel’s replacement. Thrush describes Daley as a “terrible fit” who “took his palace-guard role a little too seriously.” Daley’s downfall came as he alienated Barack-confidante Valerie Jarrett, who “quickly soured on Daley—and frequently shared her unflattering assessments with Obama.”

+ Thrush describes Jarrett as “a maternal figure” who has Obama’s total confidence and his ear, “dismissed” by some of the President’s men “as a lightweight meddler.” The book says Jarrett pushed the president to support gay marriage with “her persistent urging.” (First Lady Michelle didn’t often involve herself in policy matters but did urge her husband to endorse gay marriage.)

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