One morning in the summer of 2004, James Harding, now editor of The Times, found himself on the campaign trail in Troy, Ohio, part of a huge press pack following George W Bush on a whistlestop tour through the American heartland. While the reporters were tucking into a heaving fried chicken buffet, Karl Rove, the strategist nicknamed ‘Bush’s brain’, wandered over to say hello. During the idle chatter that followed, a Japanese reporter pointed at Rove’s case, bulging with documents and folders. ‘What’s in the bag?’ he asked. Rove laughed and put a protective hand on the bag. ‘Secret shit’, he said.
Harding’s book is, as he puts it, ‘an attempt to find out what was in the bag’. It is the story of perhaps the most influential political consultancy firm of them all, Sawyer Miller, a small group of admen and speechwriters who, at their peak in the 1980s, ran campaigns