Confessions of a Campaign Crackhead

REVIEW: 'Any Given Tuesday' by Lis Smith

July 31, 2022

Lis Smith's relationship with politics is a lot like Hunter Biden's relationship with crack cocaine. The high highs, the low lows. The seedy tabloid headlines. The "psychodialed" phone numbers. Addiction is hard to shake, especially when failing has no real consequences.

Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story is Smith's account of her evolution from Dartmouth nerd dating her politics professor to full-blown campaign crackhead, from a lowly John Edwards volunteer to "one of the top communications aides in the Democratic Party." (Her words.) The book also chronicles her search for love along the way. Spoiler alert: She has a thing for flawed older men.

Smith is certainly one of the least boring political consultants working today, and probably one of the least insane individuals advising Democratic politicians on how to win elections. That's not a particularly high bar to clear, but still. Credit where credit is due. As evidenced by her starring role in the Mayor Pete documentary, in which she berates the failed presidential candidate for sounding like "the fucking Tin Man" "reading a fucking shopping list," Smith is at her best when talking shit about her clients.

The several paragraphs Smith devotes to trashing former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio are particularly inspired. She absolutely roasts the gangly freak as a "childish, intellectually lazy, overconfident … and annoyingly condescending" weirdo with a penchant for "pseudo-intellectual, leftist, ooey-gooey mantras." Smith recalls that, while interviewing for the job of campaign spokesperson, de Blasio was less interested in her résumé than he was with her "spiritual journey." He reminded her of the "gross, unshowered guy in college who showed up to Philosophy 101 and hogged 10 minutes of class time to yell about the necessity of seizing the means of production because he'd read one line of a Communism for Dummies book."

Smith, by contrast, is the foul-mouthed female frat star who pees in parking lots, goes to strip clubs with the boys, and threatens to shove balls down throats.  She's also a tragic figure. The twitching junkie who can't stop checking her phone at her twin brother's wedding to find out "what the fuck is going on with Benghazi." She is, somewhat refreshingly, an unrepentant DINO squish who has no patience for the woke libs and ascendant socialists gunning for the Democratic establishment. She rejects the "dogma of ideological purity pushed by some on the far-left wing of the party" as "arrogant and close-minded." She accurately describes Louis Farrakhan as an anti-Semitic "hate monger"—an increasingly taboo opinion among party activists.

Any Given Tuesday is a story about how to succeed by failing. Smith honed her crisis communications skills by navigating her fair share of crises, both political and personal, and becoming "addicted to the drama." She helped Claire McCaskill win her U.S. Senate race in 2006 despite being the target of a ruthless intraparty retribution scheme. After McCaskill said she didn't want Bill Clinton near her daughter, Smith recalls, the Clintons literally made the candidate cry by pressuring top party donors to shun her. She worked for former governor Jon Corzine (D., N.J.), whose 2009 reelection bid ended in failure after being tainted by a massive corruption scandal. She fell in love with her boss—Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York.

In recounting the highs and lows of her career in political communications, Smith peels back the curtain on the cozy relationship between Democratic operatives and mainstream journalists. For example, before the right-leaning New York Post could report that she was dating the much older Spitzer, the couple deliberately leaked the story to a friendly outlet, the New York Daily News, which agreed to abide by the strict terms Smith dictated. (Years later, George Stephanopoulos pulled this same stunt on the Washington Free Beacon.) Smith recounts with glee how proud she was to have persuaded a journalist friend to ask Mitt Romney a hard question that elicited an inevitable gaffe.

At the same time, Smith offers a thoughtful critique of the mainstream media—that they're more interested in viral soundbites and petty personal attacks than they are in substantive policy debates. Yet she triumphantly recalls her success in boosting Pete Buttigieg's profile during the 2020 presidential campaign using the "unconventional" strategy of engineering viral soundbites and petty personal attacks aimed at then-vice president Mike Pence. Does anyone remember a single detail about Buttigieg's policy platform? (Me neither.) Maybe that's just how the game is played these days. Nevertheless, Smith's borderline fanatical infatuation with Buttigieg—"one of the Democratic Party's biggest stars"—raises serious doubts about her political instincts.

Meeting the former South Bend mayor was a disorienting experience, Smith writes, like the "day I heard Radiohead for the first time … [their] look, their vibe, and their sound was so different from what I was used to, but it was captivating." She'd found "the one." It's a fitting analogy, given Buttigieg's appeal to Radiohead's core demographic: white nerds. For example, Smith recalls how Buttigieg supporters "created an intense online army that would welcome new Pete supporters with 'digital hugs' and swarm any Pete detractors with fact checks." Fun!

Working for Buttigieg, who vastly exceeded expectations, helped restore Smith's faith in the political process. "Pete … reaffirmed why I'd chosen this line of work in the first place," she writes. Yet her suggestion that Buttigieg's campaign was a political triumph as well is borderline delusional. At a time when Democrats are hemorrhaging minority voters, touting a candidate who barely registered a statistically significant level of support among black voters as the future of the party seems ill-advised. The same could be said about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), another failed candidate beloved by white professionals but hardly anyone else. It's almost as if the Democratic elites are out of touch with the average Democratic voter.

That is certainly the impression one gets reading Smith's anecdotes about the early days of the campaign. Far from bolstering her case for why Buttigieg is "the one," they reveal what most Americans already know. The overeducated professionals who comprise the Democratic Party establishment and mainstream media are a bunch of self-obsessed weirdos easily infatuated with politicians who remind them of themselves. "He's like JFK. He's like Obama. He's a once-in-a-generation talent," one reporter told Smith after interviewing Buttigieg in 2017. She recalls that during a meeting with Buttigieg and MSNBC executives, she watched as network president Phil Griffin's "eyes widened as he brought his hand to his mouth to hide the smile forming on his face."

Smith will almost certainly get her chance to prove the Buttigieg skeptics (i.e., most Americans) wrong, perhaps as early as 2024. She could use another shot at redemption. The 2020 campaign must have felt like "riding bareback on a rocket," as crack aficionado Hunter Biden so eloquently put it in his own memoir. That high was soon followed by the political equivalent of being held at gunpoint while trying to buy crack in Skid Row: helping disgraced then-governor Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) navigate the sexual harassment scandal that led to his resignation. Smith sounds a regretful tone in the book, but her text messages at the time tell a difference story. "I'm texting w[ith] [MSNBC host] Katy Tur," she bragged to a group of Cuomo aides and allies in March 2021. "Katy is saying my spin live. Like verbatim."

It's a hell of a drug.

Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story
by Lis Smith
Harper, 304 pp., $27.99