Literature: Game Change

Steve Schmidt: I'm amazed that someone who has been in politics this long takes all the petty stuff so personally.
Rick Davis: And that's why they are who they are. Reagan, Bush, Clinton... All they want is to be loved. The ones that don't pathologically need to be loved, they don't get the nomination. They don't get to be president. If you'd understood that fact, you might have been able to better handle our Alaskan moose hunter. God, it was a tough campaign.
Schmidt: It wasn't a campaign, it was a bad reality show.

Game Change is the 2010 book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that documents the 2008 race between Barack Obama and John McCain, and the events leading up to it.

It covers all the major events of the campaign, with most of the focus on the contentious Democratic primaries, in particular the fight between Barack and Hillary. In addition, it offers startling and perceptive insights into the behind-the-scenes drama during the election — Obama’s attempts to remain in the race; the Clintons’ increasing ire at the media for its soft coverage of Obama; the complete destruction of Edwards’ campaign and marriage before, during and after his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter; the last-minute switchout of Sarah Palin over Joe Lieberman for Republican vice president; and the increasing chaos of the McCain campaign after the financial crisis, and through it all the constant interplay and threats of racism and sexism. An engaging read for anyone interested in politics, regardless of party preference. Though it is worth keeping in mind that both movie and book drew heavily from the off the record testimony of Steve Schmidt, whose actions in real life are controversial and- like anyone else- fall into Unreliable Narrator territory.

A TV film based on the book, primarily focusing on Sarah Palin, aired on HBO in 2012.

This book features examples of:

  • Battle Couple: Bill and Hillary
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Elizabeth Edwards, despite her public Ill Girl persona
  • The Chosen One: Barack to the Clintons and McCains, who were so irritated by the media's soft handling of him they felt it was borderline Villain with Good Publicity.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The Clintons managed to put aside their initial dislike of Obama and support him in the coming election. Hillary even made a surprise visit on the Democratic Convention floor asking the covention to declare together that Obama would be their candidate and president.
    • Subsequently, Obama even made Hillary his Secretary of State. As she explained it, she was surprised when she received his phone call offering the position, and warned him that due to the previous scandals surrounding her husband, the media would use her presence in his cabinet as further ammunition to criticize him. Obama responded that he was aware of what her ties to Bill Clinton would bring, but he was still offering the job, because he genuinely needed someone of her expertise in such an important position. She was genuinely touched, and they apparently had a good working relationship afterwards.
  • Enemy Mine: McCain ended up employing people from Bush’s campaigns, despite the fact that they ran extremely nasty smears against him during the 2000 primaries, including claiming his adopted daughter from Bangladesh was really his illegitimate child.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Everyone knows who won in the end.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: An extremely disturbing real life example. Rielle Hunter to Edwards. She was fascinated with New Age philosophy, astrology and reincarnation, and would announce to people she had just met that she was a witch. She also pumped Edwards up, claiming he could be as great a leader as MLK Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi.
    • Other Edwards campaign team members who were interviewed describe how she just insinuated herself into the entire campaign, becoming Edwards's constant companion - when she had just been hired to run a documentary film crew about the campaign. To this day, that video has never been publicly released, despite the fact that it was the one job that Rielle was officially supposed to be doing. The reason why is that the other campaign team members state that when they watched the rough cut, Hunter and Edwards were clearly flirting throughout it. Pause a moment and ask yourself: 1 - How blatantly obvious must their flirting have been that even a TV audience that didn't know them personally would pick up on it? 2 - This is the video Hunter herself submitted to them: she had become so removed from reality that she gave them a final cut of a video in which she was obviously flirting with Edwards, with zero thought to the consequences. For that matter, Edwards also knew in most of these shots that he was on camera - but he was so wrapped up in Hunter's praise that he didn't even think to stop flirting with her.
  • Meet the New Boss: A common accusation thrown at McCain was that he would be Bush Lite.
  • True Companions: All the campaigns started out with one. Only Barack’s survived.
  • The Unchosen One: Sarah Palin — McCain’s original pick for VP was Joe Lieberman

The TV movie features examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Right after Steve tells one of his colleagues to stop making fun of Dick Cheney, who he thinks is "misunderstood", he has to stop himself from laughing at the next joke. ("How does he eat wearing Darth Vader's mask?")
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba:
    Rick Davis: Who knows, we could have another Dewey-Truman situation here...always room for an upset.
    Steve Schmidt: Maybe I'll wake up with a full head of hair.
  • Attention Whore / It's All About Me: Palin is so concerned about her status in Alaska that she demands they do a poll despite the fact it costs $60,000 and the campaign has half the funds of Obama's. What's worse, she wasn't even running for re-election at the time, her term ended in 2010. After her successful performance at the Vice Presidential debate against Joe Biden, her attitude only gets worse.
    • Though as the movie is more than somewhat slanted, this coverage has also gotten its' share of fire. The poll itself makes more sense in context that isn't provided; given the state of Alaskan state politics and the rampant mutinees in the Republican base over McCain and/or Palin, it was essentially meant to see whether Palin's "base state" was secure. This was for the same reason it's wise for a general to make sure the enemy isn't running amok in their base while they're away: to keep a safe location and source of support, and avoid potential scandals popping up where they can least afford them.
  • Bald of Awesome: Steve Schmidt.
  • Based on a True Story / Foregone Conclusion
    • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A common accusation. While a lot of the events and politicking are accurate, a lot of them are at best...dubious. A basic rule of thumb is the more a given fact focuses on Palin, the less likely it is to be reliable.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Averted, the Palins are portrayed as perfectly normal, loving people thrust into a very unnerving situation.
  • Blatant Lies: Palin claiming to reporters that she was cleared in the "TrooperGate" investigation, when in fact she was censured for it. Schmidt calls her out on this.
    • In real life, this was a bit more contentious and subject to Flame Bait behind the scenes; she was indeed censured by one report, but this report was under suspicion for being a politically motivated hatchet job since many of those who did it were political allies of Obama (or at least enemies of Palin). A later report- by an attempt at a bipartisan/nonpolitical investigation- exonerated her.
  • Book Ends: Steve Schmidt's interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes.
  • Brutal Honesty: Steve has to resort to this to get anything through Palin's head, due to her Never My Fault attitude. At first he is direct but kind, but he gets less understanding as the film goes on and she becomes harder to control. One notable example:
    Steve: Governor, the Katie Couric interview didn't go well. And it wasn't Nicole Wallace's fault. It wasn't Katie Couric's fault. It wasn't the liberal media's fault. It was your fault, because you didn't prepare. And there can never be another instance of something not going well because you didn't prepare.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Schmidt wanted to sit out the 2008 cycle, but McCain convinced him to re-join.
  • Cluster F-Bomb / Gosh Dang It to Heck!: McCain and Palin's way of speaking, respectively. Keep in mind that McCain was a Navy pilot, and the phrase "cursing like a drunken sailor" has become proverbial: Navy men tend to curse very casually. According to people that know McCain, that's just the register of how he talks. He does try to restrain it when in public.
  • Critical Research Failure: invoked Both Schmidt and their vetting Law Firm each thought the other would handle the policy questions with Palin, so none of them were prepared for her serious deficiencies in that area.
    • Ironically, this portrayal is one example where the film fell into this, or has been accused of it. The best thing that can be said is that the more focused it is on Palin, the less reliable its' fact checking is; in the case of the vetting, there was very little doubt that Arthur Culvahouse was in charge of handling the policy decisions, and he did vet her.
  • The Dreaded: Obama's charisma makes him this to the McCain political team. One of the first scenes is them watching footage of Obama's speech in Berlin, the sheer size of the crowd is made to look a little terrifying.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Said by one of the campaign managers: "Dick Cheney said picking her was rash, and when Dick Cheney has the moral high ground..."
  • Freak Out / Heroic BSOD: After the infamous Katie Couric interview Palin kind of goes into a downward spiral and people start worrying about her mental health (or if she was mentally healthy to begin with). It doesn't help that Palin blames her campaign manager for not prepping her despite the fact it's her own fault she didn't "study".
  • The Ghost: Barack Obama never appears in the movie. Justified in that the movie portrays McCain barely even interactive.
  • Gilligan Cut: McCain tells his crew they're going to be adults in this election — cut to them laughing at this You Tube video mocking Sen. Edwards.
    • When Palin's advisors warn her they'll have to prepare for when the press starts sniffing around about Palin's past and personal life:
    Palin: Oh gosh, I can't think of anything I haven't already disclosed...
    Cut to Schmidt surrounded by reporters bombarding him with questions about Palin
  • Gone Horribly Right / Took A Level In Jerk Ass: After Palin's debate with Biden her confidence soars and she starts making unplanned statements to reporters, contradicting McCain's policies about stem cell research despite saying she wouldn't, and even wants to make her own concession speech on election night. Her behavior is so aggravating that even her own campaign manager couldn't vote for her.
    • As Schmidt sternly explains to her, no Vice Presidential candidate has ever given their own concession speech in all of American history, and her request is shockingly arrogant. She counters that traditions change. True, the first black man was just elected president - but Schmidt explains that the concession speech is a solemn occasion to cement American democracy (the US isn't prone to starting civil wars when one side loses an election because the losing side always respects the election results). Palin can't seen to understand that even if there is no official reason she can't give her own concession speech, that purely from a public relations perspective the press would tear her apart for being self-centered if she gave one.
    • Hoist by His Own Petard: Both Steve Schmidt and John McCain arguably. Schmidt was more interested into turning Palin into a "celebrity" to combat Obama's popularity that he completely neglected the fact that she was completely ignorant to politics. McCain completely turned a blind eye to her media whoring.
  • Hope Spot: The Vice Presidential debate is depicted as this for the McCain camp. Upon seeing Palin handle the debate calmly and with renewed energy, with almost no gaffes, Steve and the others think they can still win. However, immediately after is when they begin bringing up Rev. Wright and Bill Ayres out of desperation, causing the campaign to nose dive into batshit crazy with Palin at the center.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Steve tells McCain to stop watching Keith Olbermann and Fox News, because "it's all just bullshit." Then Steve quickly turns off his TV, which is tuned to Fox News.
  • The Ingenue / Naive New Comer: Palin (and Obama, although he's not the focus of the film).
  • Implausible Deniability: When Steve comments that Todd Palin was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party for seven years, Sarah responds that he checked the wrong box, because people can hold the completely wrong party registration for multiple years. Which has still happened, even if it is incredibly unlikely.
    • Todd might honestly have checked the wrong box and not noticed he'd registered with the Independence Party for years. Such mistakes have been known to happen. What Palin lies about is that she tells Steve that Todd checked the wrong box "and rectified the error immediately". Todd checking the wrong box isn't "implausible" - what Steve is angry about is that it is a blatant lie to claim that he fixed it "immediately" when the indisputable, recorded fact is that he at the least didn't notice it until seven years later - and that even if the accusation is trivial, making an implausible lie to deny it altogether is drastically worse.
  • Irony: McCain criticizes Obama for his lack of experience and "star power", but his team goes with Palin despite her (relative) lack of political experience because she's charismatic and gun-toting. (And anti-abortion.) And milfy.
  • It's Personal: McCain is very reluctant to use Rev. Jeremiah Wright against Obama because it reminds him of when George W. Bush smeared him by accusing him of having a black daughter out of wedlock (the girl in question was actually an adoptee from Bangladesh).
  • It Will Never Catch On: "[The day after the elections] no one will know who Sarah Palin is."
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Averted at first. McCain refuses to bring up Rev. Wright or Bill Ayres to attack Obama, and only very reluctantly does so late in the campaign, after reminding his team about when he suffered a personal smear back in 2000. There's also some foreshadowing to the Tea Party, which would rise in Obama's first term.
    Rick Davis: South Carolina was an ugly primary, but this isn't the same thing! I'm mean, Rev. Wright really did say these things!
    John McCain: That may be true. But there's a dark side to American populism. Some folks win elections by tapping into it. I'm not one of those people.
  • The Last DJ: John McCain gets betrayed as one, being old fashioned in a sense that he no longer has a chance to compete against the charismatic Obama.
  • Mama Bear: Palin gets especially upset when her family is bashed by the media, and she did not want to say she and Todd were "proud to be grandparents" after their teen daughter's pregnancy is revealed (she's not too thrilled about seeing baby-daddy Levi either: "I see you cut off your mullet").
  • MSNBC Conservative: McCain and Steve Schmidt.
  • Never My Fault: Palin, particularly after the disastrous Couric interview, when she gets into a heated argument on the phone with Wallace about it. In all fairness, Palin is a local politician and it was the campaign's fault for selecting her as McCain's running mate, so she could have made the humble defense that there's only so much preparation she could do for questions about national issues in a matter of weeks. Instead, her actual response is, "Nicolle, it wasn't my fault! I wasn't properly prepped (by you)!" Wallace desperately retorts that she wasn't "properly prepped" because she didn't listen to Wallace and her other advisors, instead ignoring them when they attempted to prep her. Palin then pulls a 180 turn (forgetting that she just accused Wallace of not prepping her at all), and declares that it's Wallace's fault for overwhelming her with too much information.
  • New Media Are Evil: Thanks to YouTube and the 24 hour news networks none of the candidates get any relief from criticism and mockery (even from Fox News!). Ironically Palin was picked partially because she looked good on You Tube.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Steve, when it's clear that they're going to lose, can barely get the words out as he apologizes to McCain for suggesting Palin as his running mate. McCain, for his part, is very understanding.
    • McCain has one when he realizes he's whipped up racism and xenophobia in his base by going negative on Obama.
  • Oh Crap!: Many of these occur among the campaign workers during their various dealings with Palin.
  • Poisonous Friend: How the movie portrays Palin.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Steve's shutdown of Palin toward the end of the movie is full of this.
    "You, Sarah Palin, will not change the importance of this proud. American. Tradition."
  • Reaction Shot: The staff members are regularly displaying an appalled face right after some ignorant, outlandish or inappropriate stuff comes out of Palin's mouth.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: McCain; he doesn't want to use Rev. "God Damn America!" Wright against Obama and he's really disturbed when people start saying Obama is a Muslim Socialist or call for his death.
    • Hands-Off Parenting: He has very little interaction with Palin and at the end he's no longer sure he can control her.
  • Running Gag: Senator "Obiden". This really happened and it was yet another of Palin's frustrating "quirks": she kept combining the names of Obama and his running mate Biden...even after being warned about it for weeks, she physically could not break this verbal habit. The cameras caught her asking Joe Biden right before the Vice Presidential debate, "Can I call you Joe?" - which was actually because behind the scenes, she was worried that she'd make the Biden-Obiden gaffe again on camera, despite being fully aware of it.
  • Spiritual Successor: To HBO's other election movie Recount, about the 2000 ballot count and directed by the same person; possibly a trilogy with Too Big To Fail, about the 2008 financial crisis.
    • HBO is also prepping Double Down, a planned film about the 2012 election.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Sarah Palin, both in-universe and meta-wise. The book was on the 2008 campaign in general, the movie focuses on Sarah Palin's role in the Republican Campaign. In the movie, Palin is portrayed as an Attention Whore who goes so far as to prepare her own concession speech and has to be told by Schmidt that A) failed vice-presidential candidates don't give concession speeches and B) she is not going steal the attention away from the election of the first African-American president of the United States.
  • Start X to Stop X: As stated in The Dreaded, Obama was such a Charismatic Speaker that the McCain Campaign decided that the only way they would stand a chance is if they could get someone equally charismatic as McCain's running mate. The problem though, as Schmidt would late put it:
    Steve Schmidt: Primary difference being Sarah Palin can't name a Supreme Court decision, whereas Barack Obama was a constitutional law professor.
  • Troubled Production: The campaign gets shades of this in a very bad way once Palin comes aboard.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Palin is criticized for the lavish shopping spree the GOP sent her on when she was to be elevated into the national spotlight.
  • You Are in Command Now: As McCain leaves to give his concession speech, he tells Palin that she is now one of the leading members of the Republican Party and to not let people like Rush Limbaugh rip it apart.