The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008


In The Way to Win, two of the country's most accomplished political reporters explain what separates the victors from the victims in the unforgiving environment of modern presidential campaigns.

Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, and John F. Harris, the national politics editor of The Washington Post, tell the story of how two families-the Bushes and the Clintons-have held the White House for a generation, and examine Hillary Clinton's prospects for extending this ...

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Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008

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In The Way to Win, two of the country's most accomplished political reporters explain what separates the victors from the victims in the unforgiving environment of modern presidential campaigns.

Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, and John F. Harris, the national politics editor of The Washington Post, tell the story of how two families-the Bushes and the Clintons-have held the White House for a generation, and examine Hillary Clinton's prospects for extending this record in 2008. The Bushes and Clintons have dominated because they are the premier political innovators of their age; each family closely studies the other's successes and failures and uses these lessons to shape its own strategies for winning elections and wielding power.

In the case of George W. Bush, his strategic genius is Karl C. Rove— arguably the most influential White House aide in history. Halperin and Harris cut through the myths and controversies surrounding Rove, revealing in brilliant, behind-the-scenes detail what he actually does-his trade secrets for winning elections.

In the case of the Clintons, the chief strategist is Bill Clinton himself. Drawing on their fifteen years reporting on and interviewing him, Halperin and Harris deconstruct and decipher the Clinton style—identifying techniques that all candidates can use in their pursuit of the White House.

Halperin and Harris make clear that presidential politics can be even more cynical than people suspect. But they also make argue that the most important factors in the way to win the presidency are having significant ideas and prompting them in a disciplined way. The book takes a lively and irreverent approach while also making a serious argument: That every candidate who runs in 2008 must have a strategy for ensuring that he or she does not wind up like Al Gore or John F. Kerry, who allowed their public images to be hijacked by the likes of Matt Drudge and other impresarios of what the authors call, the "Political Freak Show."

On the brink of what will be one of the most intense, most exciting presidential elections in American history, The Way to Win is the book that armchair political junkies have been waiting for. Filled with peerless analysis and eye-opening revelations from the trenches, it is a must-read for everyone who follows American politics.

RunTime: 17 hrs 30 min, 2 CDs. * Mp3 CD Format *. In "The Way to Win," two of the country's most accomplished political reporters explain what separates the victors from the victims in the unforgiving environment of modern presidential campaigns.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Halperin (ABC News) and Harris (the Washington Post and The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House) illustrate "trade secrets" to political victory with this penetrating examination of the personal lives and political histories of the biggest names in recent presidential politics. From the losers (John Kerry and Al Gore, defeated because they "lost control of their public images") to the potential winners (Hillary Clinton, who, they assert, will have a significant fund-raising and fame advantage if she runs in 2008), the authors extract canny lessons in political strategy. But they offer particularly valuable insights into inadequately understood players like Matt Drudge, whom the authors credit as one of the greatest forces behind the Clinton impeachment and the Gore and Kerry losses, and Karl Rove, a man who, regardless of one's politics, "deserves unique notice for one reason: he is an exceptionally good political strategist." The authors' analyses are savvy and unsentimental, without collapsing into cynicism. Though very topical, the book's comprehensiveness should make it a lasting piece of scholarship-an in-depth, indefatigable examination of American media and politics at the turn of the millennium. (Oct. 3) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
(See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06).-Ann Kim Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Talking points, on-message admonitions and Machiavellian strategies for would-be presidents. One of Bush brain Karl Rove's great insights as a political strategist was that this hearts-and-minds stuff is for conquered Third World countries; in America, the object is "to get 50 percent plus one." So it was in 2004, give or take. And so it was, give or take, in 2000. Perhaps that's the way it will be in 2008, though ABC news producer Halperin and Washington Post political editor Harris (The Survivor, 2005) remark that this will depend on which vision of politics prevails: the inclusive, governing-from-the-center Clinton doctrine, or the exclusive, appealing-to-the-base Bush doctrine. Either way, the authors hold, most of the old rules won't count; we are in a time of noise and what they call the Freak Show, when New Media outlets such as blogs-which overwhelmingly favor the technologically savvy right wing-have far more authority and audience than the Old Media of Dan Rather and company. Given that the predominant mode of the Freak Show is attack-and-smear-attack and smear the non-Republican candidate, that is-then it's small wonder that John Kerry was swiftboated in 2004; still, the authors write, he should have seen it coming, and he should have known a grand Machiavellian principle: You wanna be in charge, you gotta control your narrative. Halperin and Harris digest a couple of score of these non-bulleted bullet points, all of which seem perfectly sensible-for instance, "Being kind to those on your own team allows you to conserve your brutish tendencies to destroy political adversaries" and "Think ruthlessly and systematically about the Electoral College-only losers let their mindswander elsewhere."Q.E.D. A deeply cynical enterprise, this book. But then, so is American politics, all the more reason this will doubtless wind up on the nightstands of candidates everywhere.
From the Publisher
"Written in an easy to follow and entertaining style that translates well to audio" ---AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400064472
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/3/2006
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.39 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

John F. Harris is the national political editor of The Washington Post.

William Dufris has been nominated nine times as a finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award and has garnered tweny-one Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which also named him one of the Best Voices at the End of the Century.

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Read an Excerpt

The Way to Win

By Mark Halperin; John F. Harris

Random House

Mark Halperin; John F. Harris

All right reserved.

ISBN: 1588365565

Chapter One

the way to lose


The collection of winners on that Little Rock stage was the most striking image from the Clinton Library opening. But also in attendance, sitting in the crowd, was a pair of distinguished losers.

Al Gore and John Kerry had never been close, despite the many years they served together in Washington. Now they shared a special bond. Both had been beaten by a man they believed to be less articulate, less capable, less experienced, less virtuous, less worthy, and less intelligent than they. Both had been preparing for the presidency since they were young men, spurred not just by ambition, but by colleagues, friends, and mentors who for a generation had been anticipating their eventual candidacies. Gore and Kerry long had stood out as quintessential strivers, even among fellow senators. Now they looked up through the rain at a man whom almost no one had regarded as presidential material until a couple of years before he got the job. Neither Gore nor Kerry seemed to grasp the reasons for what both considered a cruel hoax of history.

Gore had had four years to contemplate his loss, but for Kerry, the sting of defeat was still fresh that morning. An instinctually competitive man, he had served notice immediately after Election Day that he was eager to try again for the presidency in 2008. To his face, Kerry got handshakes, praise for a racewell run, and condolences that the better man had not won. Behind his back, in Little Rock hotel bars filled with visiting Democrats, the notion of Kerry running again for president was greeted with derision and mockery, even by people who two weeks earlier had been on his payroll.

If this were a book about all the reasons John Kerry lost the 2004 election, it would be too heavy to hold. John Kerry was beaten by John Kerry, who never overcame the limitations of his diffident personality. He was beaten by George W. Bush, who was by far the savvier politician. Deep thinkers might say Kerry was beaten by history, since Democrats for nearly forty years had been at a stark disadvantage when national security was the dominant issue in voters' minds. Here is another nominee for who beat John Forbes Kerry: Matthew Drudge.

If you are reading this book, you probably know who Matt Drudge is. It is a guarantee that most of the reporters, editors, producers, and talk show bookers who serve up the daily national buffet of news recently have checked out his eponymous website, and that is bookmarked on their computers. That is one reason Drudge is the single most influential purveyor of information about American politics.

Drudge, with his droll Dickensian name, was not the only media or politi- cal agent whose actions led to John Kerry's defeat. But his role placed him at the center of the game--a New Media World Order in which Drudge was the most potent player in the process and a personification of the dynamics that did Kerry in. Drudge and his ilk made Kerry toxic--and unelectable.

Toxicity is the new defining trait of modern American politics. The toxins themselves are not new. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton initially clashed like gentlemen (albeit venomously) over the limits of federal power and the future of the economy, but when news of Hamilton's saucy mistress Maria Reynolds surfaced, thanks to nonpartisan busybody James Callender, Jefferson was content to let the accusatory pamphlets fly.

Anger, prurience, invective, conspiracy theory--all are native flowers on the American landscape. What is new is the greenhouse in which these blossoms are cultivated and sold. This greenhouse was built on two beams. The first was the disintegration of editorial filters in the Old Media, which in an earlier age prevented the most salacious tales and bitter accusations (though certainly not all) from entering the public arena. The New Media--talk radio, cable television, Internet websites--for the most part never had these editorial filters. Many of its leading voices, Drudge among them, are openly contemptuous of the very idea. The Old Media, faced with filter-free competition, responded by loosening or discarding its own.

This in turn helped promote, and was promoted by, the second beam, the erosion of basic habits of decorum and self-restraint, in politics and media alike. In an earlier generation, these habits meant that people more often refrained from fully expressing how much they loathed one another. In the current generation, self-restraint is commonly regarded as a weakness and rarely is rewarded economically or politically. The result is that the extreme and eccentric voices who always populated the margins of politics now reside, with money and fame as the rewards, at the center. Michael Moore, please say hello to Ann Coulter. The collapse of filters and the collapse of civility together have changed the purpose of politics. The goal now is not simply to win, but to persuade voters (and donors and viewers and readers) that an opponent lacks the character and credibility even to deserve a place in the contest. That is Freak Show politics.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were sitting on the stage in Little Rock because they learned to navigate the Freak Show--and even to use it to their advantage. Al Gore and John Kerry were sitting in the audience because they did not. Were it not for the Freak Show, Kerry's title today likely would be President of the United States. Instead Kerry's title is Case Study.


Kerry's 2004 presidential bid began in earnest, though unofficially, days after the 2002 midterm congressional elections. These had been a disaster for Democrats. Bush, invoking his party's credentials on national security, and revving up a turnout machine run from the White House by Karl Rove, led the Republicans to House and Senate gains. But the Massachusetts sena- tor believed Bush might yet be vulnerable in his own reelection. What was needed was a way to make plain to voters what seemed painfully obvious to Kerry: Bush was an incompetent president. Kerry hired a campaign manager, veteran Capitol Hill operative Jim Jordan, who set out with consultant Bob Shrum and a wide circle of Kerry advisers to take inventory of the Democrat's strengths and vulnerabilities. They might have been wise to start with his hair.

By conventional measures, the thick mane atop Kerry's lean, craggy face should have registered in the strengths column. His hair had grayed but not receded by a single follicle over his six decades. Kerry was a bit vain about his locks, and he gave them careful attention. As it happened, folks at the Republican National Committee had been paying attention, too. Sometime earlier, a tasty nugget of news raced around RNC headquarters. Would you believe that Kerry gets his hair cut at the Washington salon of Cristophe? Yes, exactly, that Cristophe--the same guy who did Hillary Clinton's hair. Cristophe was also the stylist who was trimming Bill Clinton that time in 1993 when Air Force One sat on the tarmac in Los Angeles for two hours while the whole world cooled its heels (never mind that reports about delayed air traffic turned out to be false).

No one at the RNC was surprised by the Cristophe news. Barbara Comstock, the party's savvy research director, had been in television green rooms with Kerry and witnessed him fussing over himself before going on air, utterly oblivious to anyone or anything around him. Jim Dyke, the party's communications director, sensed the Cristophe information would come in handy, and tucked it away for the right occasion.

On Sunday, December 2, Kerry publicly announced his candidacy to Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press. Ordinarily, this was the kind of news that would echo positively through the media for the rest of the week. With a well-timed placement, however, Dyke and his colleague Tim Griffin made sure that something else was waiting for Kerry, first thing Monday morning.

"**Exclusive**" promised the Drudge Report. "Cash and Coif!" read his headline, using the alliteration Drudge favors. "Democrat all-star John Kerry of Massachusetts is positioning himself as a populist politician while he takes the first step for a White House run. . . . But the self-described 'Man of the People' pays $150 to get his hair styled and shampooed--the cost of feeding a family of three for two weeks!"

Like many Drudge Report exclusives, this one implied rigorous reporting, including direct quotations from well-positioned sources to whom the author supposedly talked on a not-for-attribution basis. In this case, it was a "stylist source," who allegedly told him: "When it comes to his hair, Mr. Kerry is very, very particular. The coloring and the highlighting, the layering. But the results are fabulous." Drudge also claimed he had spoken to a "green room insider" at Fox News's Washington bureau: "It's always a fight to get mirror time. He obsessively primps and poses before he goes on the air." Drudge items often quote from his roster of breathless White House insiders, top media "suits," or highly placed campaign aides, all furtively but authoritatively telling Matt Drudge the way it is. Does Drudge really get on the phone and converse with such people? Some in the Old Media speculate that he takes his tips from a single source by phone or e-mail, then creates hyperventilated quotes based on (entirely plausible) speculation about what someone somewhere probably is saying. The assumption that Drudge is casually embroidering his stories--what would be career-ending fraud for an Old Media journalist or author--has not caused reporters to remove Drudge from their daily reading. Whatever. It's just Drudge. And maybe he's got something there. As Jim Dyke knew, any superiority reporters and editors feel toward Drudge does not inhibit them from pouncing on his best items.

Within hours, the Cristophe story was everywhere. Rush Limbaugh chortled over it for an hour on his radio show. Later in the day, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan gave the website credit ("We learn from Drudge this morning . . .") on his MSNBC cable show. Kerry's team knew they had a genuine problem on their hands when they saw the next day's newspapers filled with accounts of "Senator Kerry's Bad Hair Day," as one newspaper put it. A Kerry spokeswoman noted indignantly that Drudge had erred: The senator did not pay $150 for his haircut, only $75--Cristophe charges less for men. This gave Drudge a new hook. Why, he crowed, was the would-be president patronizing an establishment that practices sexism? Inevitably, the whole fuss caught the attention of Jay Leno. By the end of the week he was joking on The Tonight Show that the "winds were so strong yesterday" in Massachusetts that "John Kerry's hair actually moved." Acknowledging that the line was a little lame, Leno explained, "You see, he's running for president--I wanted to get the first joke in."

Leno's tone suggested the ruckus over Kerry's hair was all in good fun. And a sensible person might have paused to wonder how a candidate's hair possibly could have any impact on a presidential race in an era of war, terrorism, and looming global calamity. But the Cristophe story was a serious portent of a much larger problem for Kerry, with which he would live almost daily for the next two years.


Presidential campaigns are about storytelling. A winning presidential campaign presents the candidate's life story to voters. A losing campaign allows someone else to frame that story. In 1992, Bill Clinton's race vividly exemplified the phenomenon of competing narratives. There was plenty in Clinton's life to support his self-description as "The Man from Hope": an exceptional young fellow who grew up with few advantages but through brains and cheerful hard work had made a difference for his struggling Southern state. There was also plenty in that life to justify his opponents' description of "Slick Willie": a double-talking, temporizing, womanizing opportunist, whose private life and public record raised troubling questions about how he might behave in the White House.

In the end, more voters believed Clinton's version of his story. Kerry's personal life was not nearly as complicated as Clinton's, but his political challenge was bigger. Clinton had a detailed agenda, which he cared about and helped create. This is not true of all presidential candidates. Even rarer, Clinton had been the dominant voice in crafting that agenda. The most under- appreciated assets in presidential politics are a coherent rationale and the ability to defend that rationale, not just with words but with convictions that flow from life experience. Clinton had these in abundance, as did George W. Bush. Kerry understood the issues, but had not harnessed them to a greater vision. He had not compiled an impressive record of legislative achievements in the Senate. Nor had he been an influential or consistent voice in the conversation over the direction of the Democratic Party, a debate that overlapped precisely with his Senate career. In the public mind, he stood for no particular ideas beyond a mild and conventional brand of liberalism. His advisers believed that Kerry's primary claim on the presidency was his personal biography. In this, they were indulging a great obsession of the political world, and reporters most of all, for a familiar plot line, in which a heroic life climaxes in a rendezvous with history at the White House. In the past generation, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, John McCain, Bill Bradley, and John Glenn all have been lead characters in such dramas. None (so far) has ever gone to the White House except as a visitor.

A candidate who runs principally on his or her biography is acutely vulnerable to the accusation that this biography is embellished. Such a candidate, in other words, is a fat target for the Freak Show. One signature of Freak Show politics is a fixation on personality and alleged hypocrisy. Another is the ease with which shrewd political operatives can manipulate the Freak Show's attention to hijack the public image of an opponent.

Kerry and his political team knew exactly the story they would impart to voters. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger's famous line, the story had the added advantage of being largely true.


Excerpted from The Way to Win
by Mark Halperin; John F. Harris Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007


    Has good start, but becomes tedious and overstated. No doubt the Freak Show is real, but authors give it too much credit. If Freak Show (Limbaugh and his ugly kind) is so powerful, then US Democracy is doomed. Uh, I think not.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    The Best Book on Politics I have read

    This book is a must read for anyone interested in the 2008 race for the American Presidency. Halperin and Harris explain why the Bush and Clinton families are the most succesful politicians of a generation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2006

    Way to Win is Way to Go!

    I bought this book thinking I might have to say to the authors: ¿Shut up and write!¿ I was happily mistaken. Instead of being indoctrinated with political viewpoints -- I was enthralled, entertained, and enlightened with inner workings and political strategies of those who seek public office. ¿The Way To Win¿ lays out political complexities in layman¿s terms. It is marvelously done and reads like a chess match between grand masters. Page 170, ¿Play to your Strengths (And Away From your Weaknesses) What Bush knew and when he knew it¿, is just one of many chapters that made this book a fascinating read. Analogies made by the authors of successes and failures by Richard Nixon, John Kerry, and others were engrossing, informative, and fairly balanced on both sides of the political spectrum. If you want my advice, ¿Way to Win¿ is the Way to Go! Reginald V. Johnson,author, 'How To Be Happy, Successful & Rich'

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