The Big Enchilada
Campaign Adventures with the Cockeyed Optimists from Texas Who Won the Biggest Prize in Politics
Six years ago he owned a baseball team. Now he's the leader of the free world. "The Big Enchilada" is a comic anthem to the wild and improbable crusade that propelled George W. Bush into the White House and to the close-knit group of Texans who made it happen, written by "the Bush campaign's Renaissance man" (Time magazine).
Writer and political strategist Stuart Stevens has been hailed by Martin Amis as "the perfect companion: brave, funny, and ever-watchful," and The New Yorker has praised him for having "a wonderful eye for the curiosities of human behavior." Here he tells the surprisingly funny, adrenaline-fueled story of the Bush campaign the public never saw—from the Austin coffee shop where Stevens watched Karl Rove sketch out the Republican master plan on a napkin to the small Methodist church in Crawford, Texas, where the blue-jeaned future president prepared for the make-or-break debates that no one expected him to win. He offers the inside view of the rise and flameout of maverick John McCain; the struggle to come up with a message that could be heard over a booming economy ("Times have never been better. Vote for change," campaign aides joked); and the fierce debates over the upside and downside of "going negative" against a vulnerable adversary.
Above all, Stevens turns the familiar political tale of disillusionment on its head. From the moment he arrived in Austin to join the campaign—"Stevens, get in here and let's bond!" the governor said—he discovered the peculiar pleasure of working with people who not only respected and admired their candidate but actually "liked" him. They faced formidable obstacles, from a nation surfing a vast wave of peace and prosperity to an experienced opponent whose seasoned advisers bragged that the campaign would be "a slaughterhouse." But Texans, as Stevens learned, are a confident bunch, and the Bush crowd remained convinced they would win the biggest prize of all—even on the brink of losing. This is the story of what it was like as only an insider could tell it.
In a typical scene from this entertaining if uncritical insider's account of the 2000 presidential campaign, Stevens and other top George W. Bush aides find themselves puzzling over Gore's demand that no cameras be placed behind him during the debate. "It's so his bald spot won't show," Stevens finally realizes. Everyone chuckles; they eventually acquiesce to Gore's demand, Stevens recalls, in a spirit of "compassionate conservatism." Stevens, one of the nation's top political consultants, was a hired gun from New York who was brought down to Texas by the normally insular Bush team to beef up their media strategy. He crafted TV and radio commercials, scheduled interviews and prepped Bush for debates. None of this might be interesting except to die-hard political junkies, but Stevens is a fluid writer who makes high drama out of even the most banal campaign moments. Equally energizing is Stevens's colorful (some might say vulgar) prose style. He notes, for example, that his primary goal in designing TV spots was to make the Gore campaign "squeal like Ned Beatty in Deliverance"; at the first debate, Stevens observes, Gore's makeup people had their candidate "painted up like a clumsy transvestite." Stevens is unabashedly gung ho about Bush, which might frustrate readers hoping for insider dirt; he also played little part during the post-election Florida crisis, which leaves the book with a vague sense of anticlimax. Nonetheless, Stevens provides insight into the inner workings of the Bush campaign, and gives a marvelous sense of what it's like at the top level of the hectic fight for the White House.