Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) tells reporter Ida (Marisa Tomei) “I’m not naïve okay? I’ve worked on more campaigns than most people will have by the time they’re forty. I’m telling you, this is the one.” Stephen is a junior campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), a presidential candidate competing against a Senator, Ted Pullman. Between Stephen and Morris is Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Stephen’s superior and senior campaign manager. Stephen has just written a draft that Governor Mike Morris feels urged to accept. While he rides high on that, a call comes from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a rival campaign manager diametrically opposite Paul, who invites him to a political tryst and gets the ball rolling.
Stephen meets with him out of an emotional need to feel self-secure and maybe even with the intent of revamping his political career. Tom Duffy praises himself for being jaded, cynical and having the ability to turn things to his advantage. Paul, on the other hand believes that loyalty is the only currency you can count on in politics. Human errors are made but there are heavy prices to pay. Something momentous is going to happen. Bring in press reporter Ida, a scoop-hungry fiend that will pounce on anyone for it and you await the spawn of an irreparable situation.