WASHINGTON - As Juan Williams began to ask Newt Gingrich his question about whether the presidential candidate had made racially insensitive remarks midway through a January 16 debate in Myrtle Beach, a Fox News producer in the control booth yelled out, "Juan, don't do this!"
Williams, of course, went on to ask the question. It was the first of two confrontations that week between Gingrich and a debate moderator, which helped the former House Speaker score a surprise victory in the South Carolina primary.
The Fox News producer's outburst is one of several eye-catching moments in a new e-book by Real Clear Politics authors Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon. "Election 2012: A Time For Choosing," on sale Monday, is the second installment in RCP's e-book series on the 2012 campaign, which is competing with Politico's own series, by Mike Allen and Evan Thomas.
Politico's second release came out two months ago. The difference in timing has resulted in two very different books. Allen and Thomas' book, "Inside the Circus," is chock full of reporting and details, and benefits from Allen's ability to gain access to Romney's notoriously tight-lipped campaign headquarters in Boston. Their story is, as they state early on, "the story of ... Romney's perpetual vulnerability as a front-runner."
Politico's part two is a blow-by-blow look at Romney's inability to close the deal -- with many long, often anonymous quotes from Republicans second-guessing Boston's strategy -- and of Boston's response.
Bevan and Cannon benefit from releasing their second part in the first week of June. While their book has little in the way of disclosure from Romney high command, their telling has a leg up in perspective. Romney is seen through the lens of nominee, and they have taken more time to place the last several months inside a cogent narrative flow that feels less hurried.
It is a tale of two different strategies. Allen and Thomas' has been to throw as much of Allen's reporting against the wall and see what emerges. And it may be that the messy portrait of Romney as beset by challenges is the more useful one in the long run.
The RCP book tells the full story of the primary's most pivotal moments with a readable flow. It gives more screen time to Romney's top two challengers, Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa), than Politico's telling did. And because it took Romney until the end of April to truly wrap up the nomination fight, the RCP version can look back, as well as forward, with more prescience and insight than was possible two months ago.
Bevan and Cannon attempt, through a telling of the primary, to help the reader understand something of the modern Republican party, looking at its drift to the right and questioning whether it has gone too far. And they preview Romney's coming showdown with Obama as well, laying out both the tactical and message maneuvering of each side but also explaining the deeper issues at stake in the general election.
But there are also a number of gems in the book, a few well-written turns of phrase and a couple head-turning anecdotes.
Cannon and Bevan take three pages to tell the history that led to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, tracing the path of conservative activist David Bossie's history that led up to his anti-Hillary Clinton film that was at the center of the court battle.
Gingrich, Cannon and Bevan write, praised the court's decision, appearing in a Citizens United video (the name of Bossie's organization) in which he said Citizens United affirmed "the right of every citizen ... to get up and be heard, to speak, to have space in politics."
"Then," write Cannon and Bevan, "came Iowa."
Super PACs have played a significant role in the first presidential election since the court's decision made them possible. And of course, Gingrich was sand blasted into oblivion by a super PAC supporting Romney in Iowa and then again in Florida.
Gingrich is the most interesting character in the RCP book. Bevan and Cannon reveal the way Gingrich conducted himself during the South Carolina debates, when he took on Williams in Myrtle Beach, and then CNN's John King in Charleston. Bevan and Cannon show how Gingrich's anti-media tirades were carefully calculated to tap into the conservative base's strongest emotions, more so than any reflection of true outrage.
Bevan and Cannon write that during the commercial break after his lecturing of Williams, Gingrich "revealed it was nothing personal by coming over to Juan Williams and asking if the journalist had read a Civil War novel Gingrich had written and recently sent to Williams' office at Fox News. One of the characters was a black soldier, and Gingrich wanted to know Williams' opinion."
After his showdown with King, Gingrich also strolled over to the moderator during a commercial break immediately afterward.
"Great debate so far," Gingrich said to King, prompting King to laugh and say, "I thought I was 'despicable.'"
"No, it's a great debate," Gingrich said.
Bevan and Cannon recount a conversation that Fox News' Bret Baier had with Gingrich in the summer of 2011, the morning after Gingrich had gone after Fox's Chris Wallace for what he said were "Mickey Mouse questions" in a debate.
"I knew I had to create a moment," Gingrich said of his strong retorts. "Ronald Reagan created moments in his debates, and I knew I had to do the same thing."
Among the more poignant stories is that of Santorum talking to Gary Bauer, a conservative movement leader and former presidential candidate himself, on the phone from a small town in Iowa.
"He figured Bauer had never heard of [the town]," Bevan and Cannon write. "But Bauer did know it. He'd campaigned there in 2000, and actually stayed in the same cheap motel -- the only one in town -- Santorum was calling from."
"What room are you in?" Bauer asked.
"Room 103," Santorum told him.
"Then look on the nightstand," Bauer said. "I think I carved my initials there."
Bevan and Cannon have insights into the meetings that Santorum convened with Bauer and a few other trusted advisers as he struggled with whether or not to end his campaign after a string of closes losses to Romney.
They also get Texas Gov. Rick Perry to admit he wasn't ready for his run for the White House.
"Six weeks is not enough time to plan and prepare for a presidential campaign," Perry told him. "More lead time would have provided more time for national campaign preparation and policy development, and more time to get comfortable with the presidential campaign process and pace."
The best zinger of a quote comes from former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who observed of Perry's infamous 53-second brain freeze "oops" moment in a November debate.
"You can step on your dick," Barbour said. "You just can't jump up and down on it."