An award-winning political journalist for The Atlantic tells the inside story of how the embattled Democratic Party, seeking a direction for its future during the Trump years, successfully regained the White House.
The 2020 presidential campaign was a defining moment for America. As Donald Trump and his nativist populism cowed the Republican Party into submission, many Democrats—haunted by Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016 and the resulting four-year-long identity crisis—were convinced that he would be unbeatable. Their party and the country, it seemed, might never recover.
How, then, did Democrats manage to win the presidency, especially after the longest primary race with the biggest field ever? How did they keep themselves united through an internal struggle between newly empowered progressives and establishment forces—playing out against a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a new racial reckoning?
Edward-Isaac Dovere’s Battle for the Soul is the searing, fly-on-the-wall account of the Democrats’ journey through recalibration and rebirth. Dovere traces this process: from the early days in the wilderness of the post-Obama era to the jockeying of potential candidates; from the backroom battles and exhausting campaigns to the unlikely triumph of the man few expected to win; and on through the inauguration and the insurrection at the Capitol.
Dovere draws on years of on-the-ground reporting and contemporaneous conversations with the key players—whether with Pete Buttigieg in his hotel suite in Des Moines an hour before he won the Iowa caucuses or with Joe Biden in his first-ever interview in the Oval Office—as well as with aides, advisors, and voters. Offering unparalleled access and an insider’s command of the campaign, Battle for the Soul takes a compelling look at the policies, politics, and people, as well as the often absurd process of running for president. This fresh and timely story brings you on the trail, into the private rooms, and along to eavesdrop on critical conversations. You will never see campaigns or this turning point in our history the same way again.
Atlantic staff writer Dovere debuts with an incisive and deeply reported portrait of the Democratic Party in exile during the Trump presidency, and the confluence of events that brought Joe Biden to victory in 2020. Opening with election night 2016, Dovere discusses various factors contributing to Hillary Clinton's defeat, including her flaws as a campaigner and Obama's "negligence" of Democratic Party infrastructure during his presidency, and describes initial discussions about how best to organize the resistance to Trump. Turning to the 2020 primaries, Dovere offers sharp assessments of each candidate ("At his best, could appear to be working his way through the primaries as if he were solving a Rubik's Cube"); sheds light on how Bernie Sanders's push to get others to commit to Medicare for All set a ceiling on how far a progressive could go in the race; and documents how the Biden campaign navigated Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation and the "October surprise" of Hunter Biden's laptop. But in Dovere's estimation, none of that would have mattered if the Covid-19 pandemic hadn't masked Biden's weaknesses and made him the best "fit" for the moment. Though somewhat baggy, Dovere's narrative is littered with rich characterizations, wry humor, and impressive insider access. Political junkies will savor this satisfying deep dive.