Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency review

Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the PresidencyLucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency by Jonathan Allen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book is pure guilty pleasure – lots of gossip, and since it was mostly sourced on background I’d be willing to bet some of it is exaggerated. (see this Perry Bacon Jr. article on the danger of unnamed sources) But it’s a pretty quick read, and it’s been long enough since the election that I was happy to relive some parts of it.

The main thesis of the book is that Biden was unusually lucky to win the primary and the general election. I’m not sure I buy it – sure, he was lucky in a number of ways, but so is every candidate that wins, right? Maybe he was a little luckier than most but I don’t think it was a dramatic difference. Although the final result was so close, I suppose you could argue that every lucky break he got was necessary?

And maybe this is just the style of books like this, but the authors seem to go out of their way to say negative stuff about everyone involved.

Odds and ends:
– Sanders supporters were notorious for having a toxic online presence in 2016, insulting Clinton and Clinton supporters. (some of whom, as we found out after the fact, where Russian bots, although this may have been true of aggressive Clinton supporters as well) When Bernie entered the race in 2020 he condemned “bullying and harassment”, but at the same time was taking advice and later hired David Sirota, one of the more aggressive people on Twitter.
– In October 2019 (when it was basically down to Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg), Obama made some private remarks where he sort of endorsed Warren!
– The whole fiasco around the final Des Moines Register poll did help Biden – he was in fourth place (the results were Sanders 22, Warren 18, Buttigieg 16, Biden 13), but since the results didn’t get released his supporters didn’t jump ship, and it didn’t give Sanders a boost that he probably would have gotten.
– The book recounts Warren’s dislike of Bloomberg and her preparation for the Nevada debate where she eviscerated him. (I realize the trope of one person “destroying” another one have become so common as to be passe, but I think it fits here!) Other than making me smile remembering how all that went, this was another “lucky” point for Biden, as it seemed like Bloomberg was poised to lure a chunk of Biden voters. The book also mentions that after the debate, each candidate had a staff member assigned to escort them back to a holding room, but no one came to pick up Bloomberg so he stood alone by himself just offstage🙂
– I wasn’t a huge fan of Biden saying he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court at the time (it seemed like pandering to me, although I agree it’s a good idea), but the book recounts how Jim Clyburn kept pressing Biden to announce this, including running up to Biden during a commercial break in the debate before the South Carolina primary to lecture him to do it tonight. (and Biden did!)
– This is not at all surprising, but it is interesting to hear how Biden and Obama called Buttigieg right after he dropped out to ask him to endorse Biden. (Obama pointed out that Buttigieg would never have more clout than he did right then) Apparently Obama tried to make a similar call to Klobuchar, but she realized what was going on and dodged his calls🙂
– The swing towards Biden between South Carolina and Super Tuesday sure appeared dramatic from the outside, and although winning South Carolina and gaining momentum from that was Biden’s plan, a senior adviser said that stuff was “nuts and incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen”.
– Just as the primary was effectively wrapping up, Biden changed campaign managers and hired Jen O’Malley Dillon. I missed all of this, which isn’t a surprise because this was mid-March when the coronavirus started hitting the US, so her first action was to hold an all-staff meeting at headquarters, introduce herself, and announce that headquarters was shutting down!
– The book says that Biden had a lot of trouble acknowledging that his past statements or positions were wrong (not unlike Trump!), but he was quick to offer personal apologies to people who felt harmed by him. (very unlike Trump!) I hadn’t quite noticed this duality…
– The book posits that Biden running his campaign from his basement was good for Biden because it kept the focus on Trump, which made the election more like a referendum on Trump than a choice between two candidates. Which feels right to me. The book says that this was another way Biden was lucky, which sort of makes sense, although I think even in normal times Trump sucks up a lot of oxygen so I’m not sure Biden would have made a ton of news.
– Trump’s first big indoor rally after the pandemic hit the US was an indoor one in Tulsa in mid-June. The story at the time was that a million people signed up for tickets, but most of these people were TikTok users trying to mess with the Trump campaign, which is why the actual attendance was embarrassingly less than that. The book says that Brad Parscale (Trump’s campaign manager at the time) thought there were 100,000 people that had signed up that were within 50 miles of the rally, so a big crowd was very possible. But Trump warned of protests and violence and that plus the police presence scared a lot of people away. Hard to say if this is accurate or not.
– Some of the people that had been with Biden’s campaign from the beginning didn’t like that O’Malley Dillon was the new campaign manager. Apparently O’Malley Dillon’s kids would frequently pop up when she was in meetings, and one “male campaign aide who did not have children” thought that she was bringing them in on purposes, like it was staged. As someone who worked for a long time from home with young kids, that male campaign aide may go to hell.
– Putting together a virtual Democratic National Convention was a big job which worked out pretty well in the end. One idea was to have a map with lights to show where the current speaker was broadcasting from, to show the geographical diversity of the Democratic party. This idea was scrapped when they realized how many speakers were broadcasting from places like Martha’s Vineyard🙂
– They asked Lin-Manuel Miranda to write and record a new song for the convention. But some wires got crossed, and Miranda wrote an instrumental piece played on the piano, and the organizers couldn’t find a good place to use it. #ReleaseTheLinManuelMirandaSong
– Especially after the recent allegations, there’s an amusing bit where the organizers asked themselves the same question they apparently ask every four years about Andrew Cuomo: “How is he going to f*** us this time?” In 2016 he spoke for double his scheduled time. This time, he was late delivering his recording, and it was more of a tribute to himself than to Biden. The words “Joe Biden” were first spoken four minutes and fifty seconds into a five-minute speech! And he refused to refilm it. (did this actually get aired? I don’t know…)
– The prose of the book is a bit heavy-handed at times, like this quote about the captain of Biden’s analytics team on Election Day: “Siegel sipped coffee from Elixr, a small chain of boutique Philadelphia coffee shops that boasted of the ‘transformative’ power of their lights roasts. She didn’t want a transformation, just an outcome that fell within the expected range.” 🙄
– The book points out that Trump lost by a total of 42,918 votes in three states (Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin), and flipping those states would have given him a victory. This irritated me because I had already done this calculation for my state election map and came up with a different number. But it turns out the book was right (not a big surprise!) and this prompted me to find some bugs in the map, about which I’ll write later🙂 (edit: writeup done!)


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