The book “The Audacity to Win” by David Plouffe focuses on the inside story from the perspective of the campaign manager for the Obama Presidential campaign 2008 and the lessons learnt from the historic victory to elect the first African-American president. With an insider view, the story starts from how David Plouffe together with Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod put together an inner circle with candidate Barack Obama that subsequently led to a two years campaign culminating to his presidency. The book does not talk about the present day where we are debating whether President Obama have lived up to expectations, but provide the snapshot of the years that end with the day of his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.
The book is an easy read and have taken me a day to complete at a brisk pace. The whole structure of the book is broken into three parts: (a) how the Obama team was assembled and the reluctance of David Plouffe taking the role of the campaign manager given his family commitments, (b) the Democratic primary that the Obama team defeat the Hillary Clinton juggernaut and (c) the final passage to the general election where they convinced the electorate to take Obama over McCain with the unpredictability of two events – the collapse of the US economy that come with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the emergence of Sarah Palin as a VP candidate.
One common message that comes very clear for this book was to defy the odds of electing Obama as president will depend on breaking free of the standard political paradigm and turn the whole campaign into a movement. A few interesting examples were raised in the course of the book but the most memorable of all was the fact the Obama campaign focus all their effort in building grassroots support and infrastructure than to seek endorsements from civil activists groups, unions and even prominent politicians. In fact, for their campaign to succeed, there is no margin for error and also in the decisions on resource allocation. In fact, the Obama campaign ran it on tight budget as compared to the other campaigns. The interesting point which David Plouffe put forward as a best practice to his campaign is the rule of consistency which cuts through the two years of campaigning. Another example was how the Obama team have the guts not to listen to a community organizer in South Carolina and concentrate on building a local grassroots community instead of engaging paid political operatives who will bring the voters close around the elections. The same consistent approach to build up grassroots infrastructure in the different states within the US eventually created a groundswell that allowed Obama to defeat Hillary Clinton by exploiting their weaknesses in the caucuses.
The best practices in the Obama campaign is conveyed in an anecdotal approach throughout the book but Plouffe acknowledge how they identify past successful approaches from other candidates who did not eventually win the primaries and apply it to the present situation. One of the strengths is the exploitation of using Internet technologies to do fundraising, organzing supporters and vote canvassing. In fact, he also agreed that the dragging and bruising Democratic primary with Hillary Clinton did help to make Obama stronger and ready for the generals. Even with all the unhappiness that has emerged thru the primaries, David Plouffe acknowledged that the Clinton team have put the differences behind and moved on after conceding the nomination even with small tensions that led up to the generals. Perhaps, thru the lens of David Plouffe, one can identify the thought processes of Obama as a candidate in the way on how he solicit the pros and cons of a policy issue and then comes to make a decision.
Of course, the most interesting part of the book that revealed a lot about Obama is that he did want to take Hillary Clinton as his VP candidate but worried about the complications with former president Bill Clinton. It also gave a lot of insider information on how they vetted and picked a VP candidate in the process. From the Democratic convention in Denver to the finishing line, the team ran a very disciplined campaign that defy many standard conventions. In fact, they also changed the way on how fundraising is done for a political enterprise thru the use of online social networks and social media tools. The focus on metrics and numbers is very evident in David Plouffe’s approach to the campaign.
I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in political history and grasping how difficult it was in the beginning before they reach the end goal of electing Obama into office. After all, David Plouffe manage to create a US1B start-up from nothing and adopting the mantra of defying the convention to change the electorate (or consumer base) for an electrifying political campaign.
Related Video: Watch David Plouffe’s talk in Authors@Google: