Tuesday With Lanny
A day in the life of Hillary Clinton's biggest fan.
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When it comes to defending Hillary Clinton, Lanny Davis has no rival. After Clinton had been mathematically eliminated from contention for the Democratic nomination, Davis continued to campaign for her. After she conceded, he lobbied for a veep slot for her. And after Biden got the nod, he pushed to get her a choice speaking gig at the convention. Now he's agitating for her because, well, he's Lanny Davis. It's what he does.
So what does Hillary Clinton's greatest booster do at the convention at which she must concede her greatest defeat? To find out, I spent some time with him Tuesday, the day Hillary was slated to speak. I'm still not sure why he agreed to let me tag along. Here's what happened.
6 a.m.—A town car driven by a man named Hamilton—more on him later—whisks Davis from the Brown Palace Hotel to the Pepsi Center. In the car, Davis calls his daughter to wish her a happy 40th birthday. I know this because he showed me his BlackBerry calendar.
7:15 a.m.—Davis' first appearance of the day: America's Newsroom on Fox. Davis joined Fox as a commentator in June, infuriating Democrats who said he was disloyal to work for a Republican network. For Davis, the choice was obvious: Fox, he says, had treated Hillary more fairly than any other network.
Davis inhabits a gray zone between official surrogate and independent pundit. He communicates daily with the Clinton camp, but he doesn't hold an official position and doesn't get paid. Everyone benefits: The campaign gets to broadcast a mostly on-message voice who can still claim independence. The networks get to interview an insider who knows the spin but doesn't always go full-torque. And Davis gets to practice law at his firm, Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe, without the potential conflict of belonging to a campaign. (And, of course, Fox makes it worth his while.)
The question of the day: Can Hillary Clinton convince her fans to support Barack Obama? Davis' answer: Hillary Clinton can open the door, but Barack Obama has to close it himself. He will repeat this mantra another 4,528 times today.
7:45-10 a.m.—Various radio appearances: Fox's Strategy Room, WOR segment with Joan Hamburg, and Greg Allen's show.
12 p.m.—Lunch with an "old friend." I'm not invited. I will soon discover that half of the people in the Pepsi Center are old friends of Lanny's.
1 p.m.—Work. Davis does have a real job. He heads up the "legal crisis communications" team at his law firm in Washington, D.C. Davis advocates something like radical honesty: "Tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself." (If that sounds like a subtitle for a book, that's because it is.) And not for moral reasons. It's good politics. Better to put the embarrassing facts out there all at once than to have them trickle out. "Sometimes I'll say to reporter, 'You're not asking me the right question. You need to ask me this question,' " Davis explains. "It's counterintuitive—people think I'm crazy. But the fact is, it's coming out anyway."
2:30 p.m.—We notice the anti-Lanny himself, Dick Morris, in a booth for Sky News, the British network owned by News Corp. Davis pulls me aside. "This is the most hateful person to Hillary in the world," he says. "I try to tell him it doesn't help to hate so much—that it hurts his credibility—but he doesn't listen." Morris, as if aware of a disturbance in the Force, comes alive. "I thought I told you to be more positive," Davis says, extending his hand. "Oh, I'm all pro-Hillary today," Morris says. He laughs and ducks out. "We've been friends for a long time," Davis explains.
During the segment, a producer asks me whether they can keep Lanny for one more quick hit. I explain that I don't work for Lanny, I'm just following him around—but that, yes, I'm sure it would be fine.
2:55 p.m.—Hallway. "For me, politics is not personal." Davis repeats this refrain constantly. But from what I see, the opposite is true. Politics is intensely personal for Davis. Everyone is a "good friend" or an "old friend," to the extent that mere "friend" starts to sound like an insult. He delights in the flesh-pressing that so many politicians disdain. And he prizes loyalty above all else.
What he means by "politics is not personal" is that he doesn't hold grudges. Davis will appear on television with anyone, he says, as long as they pass some minimal threshold of humanity. Laura Ingraham he can deal with. Dick Morris passes, barely. But he draws the line at Ann Coulter. (Not everyone feels the same way about Davis. More on that later.)
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Photograph of Lanny Davis by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press.