GQ: Kiss the Ring

AT THE END of the lunch, before Rahm hops into a black Escalade and is driven to Palm Beach to see more rich guys, he gets on the phone with Carville and Greenberg to go over some new polling. In public Greenberg has been giddy about the Democrats' prospects. Two days ago, he wrote on his firm's Web site, "The polls all show a dramatic difference in engagement and demoralization.… This electorate will become more Democratic. The wave we are looking at will grow, not recede." But that's not the message he's delivering to Rahm, who paces back and forth on a street corner, throwing his arm in the air and yelling at Greenberg, "I don't know what the [expletive] that means!" Apparently, Greenberg has changed his mind. "He said something on the phone that was strange," Rahm explains once we're inside the car. He's sounding slightly panicked. "He said that our voters are dropping as fast as their voters in interest, which I thought was surprising. He's all over the papers saying this is a phenomenal [Republican] collapse, and then all of a sudden he was like…" His voice trails on. "I don't hear his caution in the [expletive] newspapers!" Greenberg's new theory is that all the negative ads are turning off Democrats and that Rahm needs to get his candidates to soften their message, to "close positive."

But that's not Rahm's strategy. "I told him, 'Now you're beginning to sound like someone who ran the Kerry campaign,' " he says to me, and then he calls Greenberg back. "That was pretty dark, what you said," Rahm complains to him. "But there is no recommendation to the IE to go positive, by anybody. Not that I have control of it, but I'm saying I don't hear a single thing convincing me to take our foot off their necks."

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Slowly, though, Greenberg's data seeps in, and Rahm reluctantly begins dialing the admakers and candidates, telling them one at a time, "I'm passing it on: We want to start thinking about finishing positive."

The debate about going positive will last through the final days of the campaign, with Carville and Greenberg arguing for it and Lapp arguing against it. In fact, when all is said and done, Lapp will basically refuse to follow those orders. "I decided not to do it," he'll later tell me. "The candidates rely on us to provide air cover for them."

Being positive is just not in Rahm's nature, either. Right up until the end of the campaign, he refused to make predictions or celebrate prematurely. When Adam Nagourney, the chief political correspondent for The New York Times, calls Rahm in late October to interview him for a story about how Democrats are giddy about their prospects, Rahm delivers a tongue-lashing unlike anything I've ever heard from a United States congressman. "That's not something I care about!" he screams into his Razr. "That's Washington gobbledygook. That's Washington talking to Washington. Do you know one voter in America who votes because Washington has a conversation with itself? Do you know one?" There is a pause. "Your mother! That's [expletive] it, Adam! Nobody gives a [expletive] what Washington has to say, including me. Okay?"


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