Thanks for reading The Backstory, our weekly capsule of the best new work at Puck.
It was another really fantastic week: Julia Alexander conveyed Bob Iger’s latest pivot; Dylan Byers explained CNN’s new gambit; Matt Belloni revealed the Gen Z view of Hollywood’s executive class; Julia Ioffe broke the news on Biden’s new redline; Tina Nguyen wondered if DeSantis’s ’28 hopes are cooked while Tara Palmeri reported on Casey DeSantis’s political future. Meanwhile, Lauren Sherman dug into fashion’s biggest M&A deal of the year, and Teddy Schleifer unveiled the tribulations facing S.B.F.’s boy from the Berkshires.
Check out these stories, and others, via the links below. And stick around for the backstory on how it all came together.
|For generations, we’ve been keenly aware of both the coarsening of American politics as well as its increasing strategic sophistication. As a culture, we long ago absorbed the notion that an evil genius like Roger Ailes (emphasis on the evil, please) could convince the patrician and upstanding George H.W. Bush of the notion that his only way to defeat the aloof and chummy Mike Dukakis was via the grim and sinister Willie Horton advertising campaign. And we all know that Obama and his bright and ambitious acolytes introduced algorithms and new platforms to a profession that often relied on riskless thinking, tried-and-true playbooks (oh, how I hate that word), and old-world habits—cross-tabs, robocalls, mailers, you name it.
I’m not a Washington creature, as you likely well know, but campaign season has always fascinated me, in part because its core dynamic requires political professionals to effectively operate businesses—P&Ls, fundraising, staffing, ops—all while managing the Hollywood-style egos of the principals. It’s a complex dynamic. Often the best candidate wins. But, sometimes, the principal is betrayed by their inability to guide the organization that they’ve wrought.
One of my great counterfactual curiosities is whether Hillary Clinton might have won in 2016 had she run a more tightly knit operation rather than treat the campaign like a great reunion tour, with roles for so many of the all-stars and pals and accomplices and hangers-on that the Clinton machine had accumulated over the years. When I read the WikiLeaks emails, I wasn’t surprised by the behavior of the plutocrats under her charge—instead, I was gobsmacked by the bureaucracy of the swelling plutocracy. No decision could be rendered, it seemed, without swelling unanimity amongst a large, large cohort of advisors.
Interestingly, Ron and Casey DeSantis appear to be struggling by implementing the precise opposite strategy. Despite bringing on the talented Jeff Roe to run the candidate’s super PAC, the DeSantises have appeared less interested in taking on political advisors and prefer to keep the counsel of local shamans from in and around Tallahassee. The obstinance has led to reboots, re-orgs, frustrations and finger-pointing—you know, the usual signs of a losing campaign. But as DeSantis remains mired in the polls, on the precipice of the first G.O.P. presidential debate next week, tongues are wagging.
In a pair of pieces, this week, Puck’s brilliant political reporters capture some of the fallout from this organizational mismanagement. In Is DeSantis ’28 Already Toast?, Tina Nguyen gathers the inside story from DeSantisworld and the concentric circles of the new Republican elite, and conveys their fears that a flaccid first debate performance will accelerate the campaign’s decline. Even more tantalizing, in Imagining “Jillery” DeSantis, Tara Palmeri elucidates the latest political intrigue emanating from Florida—the specter that Casey could be planning for her own political future. (By the way, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Tara’s new podcast, Somebody’s Gotta Win, a new show about the ’24 race that we’re producing with Spotify’s The Ringer.)
But if you only have time to read one piece, I’d turn your attention to a story that perfectly captures the notion that our politics are both coarsening and professionalizing. In The Salame Witch Trials, Teddy Schleifer captures this essence via the tribulations of Ryan Salame, the Berkshires native who turned into one of Sam Bankman-Fried’s political masterminds. It’s a story about political cynicism, calculation, money, and the intertwining worlds of Washington, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley. And, yes, I suppose that’s the sort of story that you might expect to read about, from time to time, in Puck.
Have a great weekend,