America is excited about Double Down: Game Change 2012, the new book about the Romney-Obama campaign from political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. (Among those who are excited: toddlers, flexible women, redheads, and professional animal impersonators.) There's just one problem: a review of the evidence at hand suggests that Halperin and Heilemann may not actually know what "double down" means.

The book is the sequel to the pair's smash hit 2008 campaign book, Game Change. That one, featuring an ingenue governor from Alaska, detailed the ups and downs of one of the most exciting presidential campaigns in decades. This new one, while not without good insider reporting, is somewhat limited by the fact that the 2012 presidential campaign was only the most exciting contest of the past four years.

When the book was announced, the title was not embraced, being a weird merger of the title from the previous, successful book and this "double down" mini-meme from 2012. But the title also didn't make sense because: Who is doubling down, on what, and how?

The Christian Science Monitor, responding to one of Obama's uses of the phrase, defined the expression in two ways.

  • The literal definition: In Blackjack, to double your bet and take one more card.
  • The figurative definition, via UrbanDictionary: "to engage in risky behavior, especially when one is already in a dangerous situation."

So … who's engaging in risky behavior here? Obama, by running again? Romney, by running again? Perhaps the person who enjoyed Game Change and is purchasing the sequel?

The mystery deepened with the leak on Twitter of a double-down heavy page from Double Down, in which the duo doubles down on the expression, presumably to make the case for why the book is called Double Down.

So let's consider those examples.


"a phalanx of millionaires and billionaires doubled down on Romney even after his flaws were all too clear"

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? It could be, if the "flaws" that were made clear were ones that made it obvious Romney would necessarily or almost certainly lose. They weren't. No one — including Halperin himself — argued that the campaign was a sure thing. Plus, from a practical standpoint, fundraising usually increases toward the end of a campaign, when more bills are coming due (increased mail and television, for example). So the increased campaign spending was likely flaw-detection independent.


"The Republican nominee, in turn, not only doubled down on the orthodoxies of the right, but on his own controversial statements and positions"

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? Sort of. (We aren't clear on the differences between the parts before and after that "but".) Romney was in a bit of a bind during the general election. He moved far to the right to (eventually) win the Republican caucuses. Normally, a candidate would tack back to the center. But Romney's grueling primary campaign had forced him to do things like reject his own healthcare plan. His convention speech, like his running mate's, was more conservative than might have been predicted. But abandoning his positions would have been equally risky, in a race where he needed strong Republican turn-out.


"The Obamans were engaged in their own doubling down" on their coalition, their technical advantage, and their get-out-the-vote system

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? No. They doubled down by having a voter coalition and turning them out? That's not doubling down, that's anteing. "No doubt the biggest wager they placed was on Obama," the next line reads. What? How's that a wager? "We are going to take a risk here," Halperin and Heilemann imagine campaign strategists saying, "We are going to let Obama run." Game change!


"Obama would have to rise to a different kind of challenge … before the country would double down on him."

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? What? Twice, a majority of Americans said, "Obama is the person we prefer to have be President." That majority wasn't taking a risk on Obama in the face of the safe bet of Romney. They invested in him.


This page was so baffling to us that we went to the archives to see when Halperin and Heilemann had used the expression in the past, in an effort to gauge if they had ever understood what it meant.


Heilemann. The Charlie Rose Show, January 25, 2011

"I think one of the questions that people had after the midterms happened was whether the president could in fact or would be willing to engage in a significant midcourse correction. He is a guy who has traditionally resisted those calls. He has been the stay the course kind of guy. Often in the face of adversity he has often doubled down and it`s paid off."

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? Sort of! This is maybe the best use of any of the examples on this page. Obama faces risks that might suggest a change in plans. He doesn't. Granted, Heilemann doesn't cite any examples of this happening, but it's pretty close.


Halperin. Politics Live, Jan 30, 2007

"Does President Bush want a double down on Iran? Could he if he wanted to. We'll explore that. Then, we'll try to stump Sam right here."

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? Sort of. Halperin was referring to suggestions that Bush would go to war in Iran, "doubling down" in the sense that he'd already started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush wasn't planning to do so (particularly in 2007). And, besides, it would be a tripling down, no?


Halperin. ABC News Now, Oct 23, 2006

"If you're interested, maybe in a Big Gulp, or a Slurpee, or a microwave burrito, 7-Eleven would be your numbers, but if you're interested in knowing about control in Congress, it would be six and 15. … And those who said, when he started the war in Iraq, that his presidency was now based on it, it looks like, at least, part of that bet may well come due and not possible to double down in time to save control in Congress."

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? No. Maybe he meant the surge? The size of a Big Gulp?


Halperin. Politics Live, Sep 15, 2006

"Double down on your electronic future, it's your chance to take part in our hour-long newscast like you never had before."

Is this a literal double down? No.

Is this a figurative double down? No.