The Secret Plot to Fire Stephanie Cutter

Here’s another taste of The Message, via msnbc:


Wolffe_TheMessageHC[1]The Obama campaign looked in the mirror and saw a political problem.

It had researched every piece of its own message machine and found one area that required urgent fixing. Focus group data suggested that the campaign needed more women on television. Women voters would be a dominant part of any victory in a tough political year for the president.

But Obama’s surrogates on TV were mainly men like David Axelrod, the campaign’s senior strategist. So when a request landed from CBS, a young staffer passed on the booking to the highest-profile woman at campaign headquarters in Chicago: Stephanie Cutter.

Cutter was deputy campaign manager. But she had long fretted about her status within Obama’s tight circle, not least after failing to get the job and power she wanted in the West Wing. Her comfort lay in maintaining the tightest grip on the campaign’s communications, including the kind of TV punditry she also found flattering.

Cutter asked Axelrod if it was okay for her to take the slot, and he agreed.  An hour later though, he discovered a crucial piece of missing information: CBS had first asked for him.

Axelrod marched into Cutter’s office at the Prudential building to demand an explanation. Why did nobody tell him what was happening? Why was he in the position of looking so bad in front of his media friends?

“CBS asked for me, not you,” Axelrod thundered.

“I didn’t know that,” Cutter explained. “I was asked to do it. I didn’t know what the request was.”

He was convinced that Cutter was trying to steal the limelight. She claimed she wasn’t. Both were unsure of their own status and unsure of their own purpose.


Interviews and stuff

Catch my appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday Sept 15th here.

I’ll be on Morning Joe and The Last Word on Monday Sept 16th.

The Drama behind Obama

This is just a taste of what’s at The Daily Beast. Read the full excerpt here.Wolffe_TheMessageHC[1]


The press liked to call their style No Drama Obama.

It was a nice turn of phrase that matched the mood of the candidate in 2008.

But that all changed with the reelection. The personal tensions started earlier and rapidly worsened. They fought in private and in the open. There was plenty of simmering, and often a high boil. The team of rivals rarely achieved a spirit of cooperation and seemed more inclined to bitter, dogged rivalries.

There was a new actor in the campaign drama: Jim Messina. Obama convinced Messina to leave his political father, Sen. Max Baucus, by calling him the day after Hillary Clinton dropped out of the Democratic primary contest. The sales pitch was neither about hope nor change. “You’re really going to get to run a business,” Obama told Messina.

Seven days later, Messina was in Chicago with control of the campaign staff and its budget. On his first day at work, David Plouffe handed him a list of half a dozen people.

“Fire them,” Plouffe said.

So he did. Messina would introduce himself to bemused staffers and ask them to visit his office for a second or two. That was the last conversation they would have with him at campaign headquarters. Other staffers might be unhappy at taking the ax to new coworkers; Messina was not one of them. He was in Chicago to bring some order to an operation that had outlived the structure of the primaries. If that meant he was unpopular, so be it.

Just five months after President Obama signed his historic health-​care reform into law, he shared his armored limo with Messina in Seattle, where they had traveled for an event to help reelect Sen. Patty Murray.

“Everyone says you should run the campaign,” Obama told Messina. “How will I replace you?”

Messina asked to defer the conversation until after the midterm elections of 2010. Which was how he ended up in Hawaii at Christmas, wading through the surf with the president of the United States, discussing his next job as manager of the 2012 reelection.

There never was another serious candidate for the position. Plouffe had handed him operational control of the 2008 campaign. And the following year, in the White House, Plouffe had once again told Messina to run Chicago. Implicit in that offer was the notion that the two operatives could maintain their working alliance: Plouffe would set the course and steer the strategy, while Messina would run the machine. Plouffe could stay inside the White House, close to POTUS, while still controlling a headquarters 700 miles away.

Messina walked into the empty offices in the Prudential building in March 2011 with a single box of personal items. There was no structure and no staff: not even on paper.

The Message


Here’s the cover of The Message, on sale on Tuesday September 17th. Let me know what you think of it – the cover and the book!  You can find it on Amazon right here.

Coming Soon: The Message

White House photo of election night in Chicago, November 2012

My latest book, on the Obama campaign of 2012, will be published by Twelve very soon. Stay tuned.

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