The War of the Worlds
The day he and his prospective shipmates on the Ark met in Dallas over the last weekend in May, Ed Rollins wondered why he had come -- why, indeed, he had been invited in the first place. After a month's courtship, he and Hamilton Jordan were ready to sign up as full-time co-chairmen of the campaign-to-be and had flown in to close the deal, first with Tom Luce and Mort Meyerson, then with Perot. But at the Saturday preliminaries in Meyerson's office, everything Rollins threw at Perot's two guys about what needed doing seemed to make them nervous, even suspicious of his intentions. Their partnership hadn't even begun, and Rollins was already feeling as welcome as an atheist in a convent garden.
There had been signals from the beginning that he was walking into a collision of cultures -- the pro-am civil war that would help destroy the first Perot campaign within six weeks of the day Rollins arrived. He was, on his record, everything that Perot was running against. At age forty-nine, he already had a secure place in the handlers' hall of fame, for having lasted twenty-five years in the business and having managed Ronald Reagan's postcard-pretty landslide in 1984. He even looked different from the smooth, clean-shaven corporate men Perot favored; he was a taut, thick-chested ex-prize fighter with a beard, a fringe of receding gray hair and an air of contained, almost dangerous energy. The uncandidate himself had been wary of the match from the beginning, a view reinforced by some of the purists who had his ear.
"I got some questions whether Rollins would fit," Perot had said at one point in the long mating dance. "Does he understand this type of campaign?"
The most accurate answer might have been yes and no. Rollins was what he seemed, a tough, combative, anything-to-win professional. But he did not fit the stereotype of the handler as a man without beliefs except in his own ever-rising net worth. Like others in his trade, he was fed up with the aridity of American politics and had found himself powerfully drawn to the raw, up-from-under energy of the