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Defector Reads A Book

We Tried To Review Lis Smith’s Vapid New Book

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg's spokesperson Lis Smith speaks to the press in the Spin Room after participating in the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Lis Smith—the political communications director who loves powerful people, wearing big sunglasses, and saying “fuck”—has written a memoir, titled Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story, about her badass professional career, which, as the book makes clear, overlaps almost totally with her personal life. This career peaked in 2020 when she worked as a senior advisor to Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, who made a run for the presidency before he dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden. In 2021, Smith advised then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after he was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. Smith’s accounting of her work for the governor is vague at best, revisionist and selective at worst.

The book also covers how she got interested in politics (she watched the Clinton-era documentary The War Room, which she references in the book five different times), the fallout from her relationship with Eliot Spitzer (he did not suck her toes in a hot tub in Jamaica), and the things she hates (Bill de Blasio, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and genocide, among others).

The idea of writing a review of this book made me want to tweeze my brain out of my ears, so I asked friend of the site Ashley Feinberg if she’d read the book too and then talk about it with me. Below is our conversation, which has been a little more than lightly edited because honestly neither of us were super prepared. We hope you enjoy.

Laura Wagner: Hello Ashley.

Ashley Feinberg: Laura I know this is technically supposed to be led by you, but, I would just like to say something off the bat.

LW: Please go ahead.

AF: It relates to sports so it seems important to clarify at the top.

LW: Hm.

AF: Now, I’ve never actually seen the movie Any Given Sunday, but I assume it is called that because there’s a football game or whatever on “any given Sunday.” Is that accurate.

LW: I don’t know movies but I think this is correct. Oh wow it has Al Pacino.

AF: Lis Smith calling her book Any Given Tuesday doesn’t make any fucking sense. On Any Given Tuesday there is almost certainly NOT going to be an election.

LW: Great point.

AF: I also think it’s important to note that she uses the phrase no less than three times in the book itself. Allow me to identify them.

On page 44: “The allure of the political game is the draw of any given Tuesday—the belief that for every loss, there’s a winning candidate or cause or campaign that redeems your faith in the process and creates the positive change you’ve been seeking all along.”

Obviously the sentence is completely meaningless already but come on.

LW: Yeah. Lis actually credits someone else with coming up with the title in the acknowledgements. 

AF: Then on page 62: “On any given Tuesday, anything is possible—including a popular former governor losing to a political unknown.”

Then again on page 288: “I’m my father’s daughter. I’ll always believe in the possibility of any given Tuesday. Whether on the field or in the stands, I’ll always show up to the game”

??????????

LW: I’m always saying this.

AF: God I’m getting so mad about it again. I want her to tell me precisely what the possibility of any given Tuesday is. That it comes after Monday, perhaps.

Anyway, back to you.

LW: What do you think the title should have been?

AF:  Rude Progressives Are Why All My Candidates Lose, by Lis Smith

LW: On page 17 she says: “It’s easy to get sucked in by the trappings of power.” I think that’d be great.

AF: Get Sucked?

LW: Not bad. speaking of sucked…

Actually nvm.

AF: Lmao.

LW: We’ll get there.

So the book basically covers all the candidates she worked for—Claire McCaskill, Terry McAuliffe, Jon Corzine, some guy named Ted Strickland in Ohio, Eliot Spitzer, Martin O’Malley, Bill de Blasio, Obama, Mayor Pete, Andrew Cuomo—and what she learned from years of “rolling in the mud,” as she likes to say. It has basically no mention of policy and she only gets really animated when she’s talking about much she hates the “far-left wing” of the party and also Bill de Blasio, because he dumped her after the Spitzer stuff. She started writing the book in 2020 and so it’s bookended by Cuomo shit, but the Pete story is clearly supposed to be the meat of it.

AF: I will just say one thing I loved is that she is so effusive about all these just godawful people, for example, she says this about McAuliffe:

At a northern Virginia fundraiser with hundreds of Pakistani-Virginian donors, he started his speech with a mischievous smile—usually the precursor to a classic Terryism. “I’d like to announce that when I’m governor, Kashmir is YOURS!!!” The crowd erupted in cheers and knowing laughter. No one was under any illusion that the next governor of Virginia would have sway over Kashmir. I don’t think there was any doubt in the crowd that Terry would’ve made the same “promise” to a room filled with Indian-Virginian donors—in fact he had. Terry haters would probably hold up a moment like this as an example of his being a ruthless political operator, but they’d be missing the point. Terry had a guilelessness to him, a quality that made everyone around him feel like they were in on the most inside of jokes.

And also relates a couple stories meant to paint him as charming and human. So this is from that same fundraiser:

“Are there any single men in this crowd? Because mah press secretary Lizzy over there is just dah-ing—DAH-ING—to get married.” Every head in the crowd turned in my direction. As a staffer, it’s usually a source of pride to get a callout from your candidate in front of a big crowd. That is, unless he’s roasting your dating life.

And then when they were on a plane somewhere:

While the cabin shook and everyone exchanged wary looks, Terry announced theatrically: “WE’RE GOING DOWN!” He added a visual, his hand plunging downward toward the ground. “WE’RE GOING DOWN!” he repeated. “YOU KNOW WHAT THE HEADLINES ARE GONNA READ TOMORROW, DON’T YOU? ‘MCAULIFFE, OTHERS DIE IN PLANE CRASH!'” Say what you want about Terry, but he knew how to read a room and diffuse the tension. Everyone—even the most nervous fliers on board—erupted into laughter. Clearly, we all lived to tell the tale.

Not sure that’s what I would call reading a room! But anyway, they’re mostly the stories you would expect from an asshole, Lis obviously disagrees.

LW: Yeah Terry seemed way too invested in her romantic life. She also wrote: 

Terry and [other staffer] Justin were both married, so I was the source for all the gossip in the car. I was starting to ease back into single life after my breakup with Jeff. They’d discuss guys they could set me up with and walk through the pros and cons of each: too short, too old, rich but weird. You get the drill. Terry took the assignment especially seriously.

AF: But then the way she describes meeting Bill de Blasio with just the most visceral sort of disgust is incredible:

It was just off from the second he sat down. Over the next hour, it slowly dawned on me that the likely incoming mayor of New York was childish, intellectually lazy, overconfident in his own abilities, and annoyingly condescending. He sipped a big glass of Chianti that stained his teeth purple as he asked some of the weirdest interview questions of my life. “So what brings you here, Lis?”

Like, yeah Bill de Blasio sucks but like, this is all insanely normal:

“Well, Lis, let me tell you about my journey . . .” he started. I basically blacked out for the next ten minutes as he talked about everything from Fiorello La Guardia to Buddhism. I kept trying to steer the conversation away from his pseudo-intellectual, leftist, ooey-gooey mantras, but every time I brought it back to my experience working for mayors and governors, he visibly bristled: How dare you talk about city services and potholes?

Honestly this seems kind of interesting?

LW: Also, “city services and potholes” is probably the closest she got in the whole book to talking about any policy she supposedly cares about. But yeah I’d be interested to hear about Bill’s weird journey!

AF: At first the only explanation I had was that she is just actively rankled by anyone who has actual beliefs, but then when I got to the part where he asked her to step down it all made so much more sense

LW: Did you know I played softball with BDB?

AF: I did not! What was it like?

LW: It was fun. He runs weird.

AF: Terry McAuliffe kissed me on the cheek once.

LW: How slimy was it? Scale of 1 -10.

AF: Terry McAuliffe Insists Hillary Clinton Will Never Support TPP, Says “She’s Wrong”

PHILADELPHIA — Making a late-night appearance at a post-DNC party early this morning, a vivacious and enthusiastic Governor Terry McAuliffe asserted to Gawker not only that Hillary Clinton is not at risk of changing her position on TPP, but that she had “never supported it and never would.”

Honestly, it was extremely wet. But he was also maybe the drunkest I’ve ever seen a person be while still mostly being able to stand.

LW: Lol. OK back to the book. Lis wrote in the Bill de Blasio section: “Nothing, not even burning ambition, could justify working for  a politician with no integrity.”

Hmmm.

AF: Lol that stuck out to me, too. I mean Cuomo obviously but also what exactly is she referring to?

LW: Yeah I dunno.

AF: I mean there’s all of de Blasio’s misuse of funds stuff, but she never actually mentions any of that and clearly criminal investigations don’t bother her all that much.

LW: Yeah, she’s just personally mad because he got rid of her. She was really mad that he made her resign rather than fire her outright.

Should we get to Pete?

AF: Sure but real quick I’d just like to mention … earlier in the book, when writing about working for John Edwards in college, she writes:

The campaign put me up with a couple of other staffers at a picturesque farmhouse outside Keene—it looked like something out of a movie. Maybe a rom-com, maybe a slasher flick like The Strangers

The Strangers is an insane movie to reference??

LW: Is that the corn movie?

AF: The corn?

LW: There are corn fields? The scary people hide in corn.

AF: Children of the Corn?

LW: Hmm wait.

AF: You’re thinking of Children of the Corn.

LW: OK yeah nvm.

AF: No, The Strangers was a not-great 2008 horror movie starring Liv Tyler. Sorry one more thing from that same page:

When I handed over the mic, Edwards—ever the slick politician—nonetheless gushed to the crowd: “Isn’t she great? Maybe she’s the one who should be running for office here.” The high of that night was addicting.

That is from when she brought Edwards to Dartmouth while she was in college. But I just love that she clearly took that line to heart.

LW: She spends like five pages describing this part!

AF: Lis Smith asking every person working in a department store how a dress looks on her so she can hear the phrase “looks so good on you” 80 different times.

LW: Lol.

AF: Lis Smith going to Hooters cause they like her so much. It’s clear that everything she has done is John Edwards’s fault—one more crime he must answer for.

LW: This was after she describes John Edwards as her first political love. With the “shiniest light brown hair you ever saw.” She describes all the politicians she works for in such terms.

AF: Yeah actually let’s compile those initial descriptions and see what it is Lis looks for in her candidates. Here’s Edwards’s top qualities:

His “Two Americas” campaign theme drew me in immediately with its echoes of Bobby Kennedy. Also, let’s be real: his superficial appeal was an undeniable factor. He was youngish and vibrant, with the shiniest light brown hair you’d ever seen. Years of work as a courtroom star translated well on the Senate floor and campaign trail: he knew how to craft an argument, reel you in, and leave you with no other option but to side with him. With his pronounced Carolina drawl, he drew out his vowels irresistibly: “Eye-o-wah, ahhh bah-LEEEEVE in youuuu.”

And then McAuliffe:

While media types labeled the appearance “bizarre,” “loopy,” and “unhinged,” I found it endearing and entertaining. Too many politicians take themselves too seriously, and Terry clearly wasn’t in that camp. He wasn’t boring.

Which, again, is incredible after she called de Blasio a deranged freak for wanting to talk about what she believes in.

LW: Hahaha. She seems to get really defensive when she has to talk about what her beliefs are.

AF: Then we have an incredible pitch for Claire McCaskill:

It was the first time I’d had the chance to spend a substantial amount of time around a candidate I was working for. And there was just something about Claire. Back then I didn’t know what to call it. Smart? Brassy? Willful? Now I do—she, somewhat improbably, had an “it” factor about her. Sure, she was a little overweight. She overdid the black liner and mascara (something our ad consultant got her to drop mid-campaign). She didn’t pretend to be glamorous and didn’t make that a part of her appeal. But she was a natural-born communicator: observing her in action, it was clear why she’d been such a formidable prosecutor earlier in her career.

LW: Oh hell yeah.

AF: Based on the book it would seem the sole belief any of these people have is that they like Lis Smith.

LW: Memoir, what a genre.

AF: From her early days with Eliot Spitzer—

LW: There’s something about his “cerulean blue eyes,” iirc.

AF: Oh yeah this book is horny as hell:

When I walked into Eliot’s office, I felt something I’d never felt with anyone I’d ever worked for, a sensation I hadn’t experienced since I laid eyes on Jeff that first time in the classroom. He had a wry sense of humor, a deep baritone voice that boomed across the room, and the most gorgeous eyes I’d ever seen—deep set, cerulean blue, and alight with intensity. I didn’t ascribe too much importance to it at first, but after a month on the campaign, the chemistry between us was undeniable.

(Jeff is her college professor she had a relationship with.)

(For those reading at home.)

LW: Man. OK. I only have one part to highlight about the Eliot Spitzer stuff, which is when she writes about the period after the tabloids broke the story that she and Spitzer were dating and she and her family were basically besieged. It was a thing that truly bummed me out. She writes:

My siblings and parents are very private people—they’d all managed to keep low profiles and had never had any interactions with the press. It was a total culture shock for them—tacky, tawdry, and invasive. And whose fault was it? Mine, of course. One by one they called or texted me to tell me what a shitty person I was for bringing this on them. If I’d thought things couldn’t have gotten worse, I was wrong.

AF: Honestly that part does kind of help explain why she is how she is.

LW: Yeah…

AF: Sorry just jumping back, here’s the Pete appeal:

When I’ve been asked to describe the moment I first met Pete in person, I use an analogy from my music fandom. Growing up, my favorite band was Guns N’ Roses. I went to their shows, knew all the lyrics to their songs, fantasized about marrying Axl Rose. Then, one day I heard Radiohead for the first time and felt disoriented. Radiohead’s look, their vibe, and their sound was so different from what I was used to, but it was captivating. That was how I felt the first time I listened to Pete. I’d finally experienced that moment that prominent political advisers like David Axelrod and Karl Rove talked about—I’d found the one.

Just complete vapid bullshit. Never once a single implication that these people have any reason for existing other than putting out vibes. Which like, yes I understand that is her job but it just baffles me that people can actually be like this.

LW: It’s cliche to say that politics are a game to her, but the whole book reads like she fundamentally cannot conceive of how political power could translate into helping people.

AF: Like she repeatedly refers to people on the left as posturing and being holier than thou for its own sake. And I think she does actually believe that just because none of this actually means anything to her.

LW: Right.

AF: Baffles her that people can care deeply about something outside of themselves.

LW: She says she has “core beliefs” and then doesn’t share them.

After she writes about how one of her losing candidates, Ted Strickand, had an A+ rating from the NRA when just months earlier another of her losing candidates, Jon Corzine, had attacked the NRA, she writes: 

There are people both in and outside of politics who would have a problem with doing that. How could you work with people with such different views? Don’t you have any core beliefs? I’ve heard every iteration of that question over the years. The simple answer is that I do have my core beliefs and while they may have gotten more nuanced over the years, they haven’t fundamentally changed much. But they’re my beliefs. I’m not so arrogant and close-minded that I think everyone needs to share them.

OK, but what are the core beliefs? 

AF: This part made me insane:

If someone doesn’t support every policy on their progressive wish list, no matter how fanciful or unfeasible, no matter how politically toxic, they’re branded an enemy or a Republican in disguise. In my experience, the only thing that smug, know-it-all attitude produces is more Republicans in office.

That’s not even a little bit true! Ed Markey and John Fetterman being two examples of the top of my head. Oh and what’s his name, big boy governor. Pritzker.

LW: Oh yeah.

AF: Like, these guys have a lot of bad positions but the left still loves them. The problem is that Lis works for evil little creeps who no one trusts.

AF: Oh ALSO. I LOVE that one of the only times she actual talks about a policy, she just blatantly lies.

LW: The M4A part?

AF: Yup!

On the issue of health care, you had Sanders and Warren offering their unqualified support for Medicare for All (M4A), a slogan of a policy that was popular until people learned what it actually meant. The United States admittedly lags other developed nations in providing universal health care, but M4A was far to the left of what any other country had implemented—it would force every American into the same health plan and preclude the option of private insurance.

Just blatantly untrue.

LW: I wonder if she knows this and just doesn’t care? I mean, this was a huge topic leading up to 2020!

Oh wait, I wanted to bring this up—

AF: Yes do go on.

LW: In 2019, after a white South Bend cop killed Eric Logan, who was black, Mayor Pete held a town hall (to which he invited all national media), supposedly so people could have a forum to discuss the shooting and police brutality and racism. Lis writes about how terribly it went and then tries to spin it as a success because it was a “cathartic moment.”

AF: Oh yeah, that was incredible:

It might not have been pretty, but Pete had given Black residents of South Bend a hearing. It was a cathartic moment for the community. And while it certainly didn’t fix race relations in his city, his decision to hold a town hall confronting the issue head-on was likely why we never saw images of buildings and cars burning in South Bend like those we saw from Minneapolis.

LW: What the fuck!

AF: The fact that Pete deigned to be yelled at saved South Bend. 

LW: Pete is a martyr, actually.

AF: Oh I actually have a question. So shortly after Pete saved the black community from itself by presenting himself to them on a cross, Lis said this to him before a debate:

So, this is the deal—this is a make-or-break moment for you. I’m not gonna sugarcoat that. And you cannot go up there onstage tomorrow and be Peter fucking Pan. Because Democrats are looking for someone who can beat Donald Trump, and no one thinks Peter Pan can do that.

Can you explain to me what that means.

LW: I have a big question mark next to that in the book. 

AF: I mean I agree that Peter Pan can’t beat Donald Trump because he is not, nor will he ever reach, age 35. But Pete was already 35 from my understanding.

LW: Yeah she writes several times about how her killer instinct helped nudge Pete to go on the attack. Must kill off your inner Peter Pan first? Oh also did you clock the list of things she hates.

AF: I think I missed that.

LW: The list begins with “genocide, racism, sexism.”

AF: lakdjfls.

LW: Lol.

AF: OK lets see:

To say Eliot hated Cuomo would be an understatement. There are a lot of things I hate in life: genocide, racism and sexism, child and animal abuse, bats (the flying rodents, not Louisville Sluggers), chewing gum, and small talk, to name a few.

Honestly the sexism one is so good. Should we revisit her texts during the Cuomo crisis?

LW: Yeah: “Can you just fire every woman.” Mwah!

AF:

Phenomenal. In her defense, if they fired every woman it’d be harder for Cuomo to find women to harass.

LW: True. OK, let’s end on some sports shit.

AF: You catch the big game? I know I did.

LW: I love the games. Especially the big ones. And so does Lis. Which you can tell because she uses the following sports metaphors—

AF: Great segue:

If you’re a GM of a football team in need of a quarterback, are you gonna draft the amazing quarterback who played for the team with a losing record or the okay one who played for the team with a winning record? It’s no different when you’re building a campaign team.

LW: She goes to this analogy while writing about how she had worked on four straight losing campaigns. She wrote that she was still getting job offers because there’s “more respect for people who take on tough losing campaigns than for people who work on easy wins.” She’s the star quarterback, get it?

OK, next.

AF:  

News organizations don’t work in tandem like allies during World War II. They compete against each other like the Patriots and Giants in the 2008 and 2012 Super Bowls. They want to win. They want to be first, even if first means they beat a competitor by a few minutes.

Lol.

LW: War is football, you see. Politics is war. Journalism is football? OK, next one is about the alleged toe-sucking incident.

AF:  

Neither Eliot nor I was gonna win a gold medal in the “not reckless” competition at the Olympics. But seriously. We’d gone down to Jamaica to get away from tabloid drama, not actively court it. Our resort was more Leave It to Beaver than Debbie Does Dallas.

What the fuck are these references?

LW: I googled Debbie Does Dallas:

a 1978 pornographic film starring Bambi Woods. The plot of the film focuses on a team of cheerleaders attempting to earn enough money to send the title character to Dallas, Texas to try out for the famous “Texas Cowgirls” cheerleading squad.

AF: I mean I know what they ARE but just picking the weirdest shit.

LW: How am I supposed to know about porn from the ’70s?

AF: A fun fact is that my mom’s name is Debbie and lives in Dallas.

LW: Wow nice. OK the next one is about Cuomo and includes the words, “just as the Patriots came roaring back, Covid would too.”

AF: Hell yeah:

He was floated as a replacement for Biden on the 2020 ticket (delusional) and coronated as a front-runner for the 2024 Democratic nomination (fever dream). He started to feel his oats. Just four months into the pandemic, he signed a multimillion-dollar book deal with Random House to tout his leadership lessons during the pandemic. It was the height of hubris. It was as if the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons had walked off the field during the third quarter of the 2017 Super Bowl, satisfied enough with his team’s 28–3 lead over the Patriots to write a book about lessons in winning the Lombardi Trophy. As everyone knows by now, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady overcame the biggest deficit in Super Bowl history to win that game 34–28. Just as the Patriots came roaring back, COVID would, too, with a second devastating wave that took the lives of fourteen thousand more New Yorkers—all while Cuomo was promoting his memoir.

God she is revising history so much on this Cuomo shit. Like maybe if she’d even pretended that she had a change of heart between when it was happening and now, but she just pretends she wasn’t a diehard defender for a truly breathtaking period of time.

LW: She switches between posturing as if she wasn’t a defender and also defending her defending:

Politics is filled with cut-and-run artists–soulless climbers who cling to elected officials  when they’re popular then disappear the second they’re not. I never wanted to be one of those people.

AF: Feel like that doesn’t quite fit with her deleting this tweet after Chris Cuomo got fired:

Maybe her finger slipped. Here’s another sports metaphor:

Politics, like football, involves an element of faith. You can have a good year—a great candidate, a winning campaign, accolades for being a strategic genius—and feel like you’re on top of the world. Then, you turn around and get completely shellacked in your next race, and you question why you’re even in the business to start with.

LW: Mm so true! OK thank you pal, I really appreciate it. Before we wrap up do you have anything else you want to talk about?

AF: Actually yes. I do have something I want to talk about.

LW: Oh good, let’s hear it.

AF: So this is from when she’s explaining why she took a chance on a bright-eyed underdog from Harvard in a little place called South Bend, Indiana:

The second was a New Yorker profile of Barack Obama written by David Remnick that had posted right after the November election. In it, Obama named four Democrats as the future of the party: Tim Kaine, Michael Bennet, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. How have I not heard of this guy?

I LOVE that those were Obama’s picks.

LW: Michael Bennet!!!!!!

AF: Phenomenal work with a real eye for the future.

LW: Yeah no notes.

AF: I think the most important thing I learned from this book is that top-level advisors to moderate politicians are just as evil as we all think they are, but everyone is also much much stupider than we give them credit for. And also if Joe Manchin or whoever wants to give me millions of dollars to tell him “This is your moment—you can’t be Captain fucking Hook out there,” I’m more than willing to do it.

LW: Excellent, I’ll be sending this to Kyrsten Sinema with your resume.

AF: Classic fresh-eyed broad with the it factor.