David Axelrod

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

It’s hard to avoid the cynical side of politics. It got to points where I thought about quitting because I didn’t want to succumb to that. One was in 2002. I was going through this sort of existential crisis when Barack Obama called. He had lost to Bobby Rush by 30 points in a race for Congress and was at a crossroads. He said, “I’ve got one race left in me. I promised Michelle I’ll get a real job if this doesn’t pan out, but I want to run for the U.S. Senate.” That race helped reinvigorate me.

Going through a presidential campaign at a very high level is an extraordinarily demanding, taxing deal. Your mind is racing 24 hours a day, you don’t sleep, you don’t eat well, you’re traveling constantly, you’re under constant pressure. Now I have two grandchildren, and I don’t want to do that again.

I have a lot of regrets about the sacrifices I inflicted on my wife and children when I was pursuing my career. I persuaded myself that it was important to do. Now I look back and realize there were actually more important things I needed to do, and the fact that I didn’t make time for those things is a source of embarrassment and shame.

The higher you go in politics, if you’re not able to reveal who you are, you’re not going to succeed. I think Hillary Clinton learned that in the last election. With Donald Trump, for all of his shortcomings, you never hear anybody say, “Gee, I wish he’d just speak his mind.” I said a long time ago that presidential campaigns are…

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