Will Hillary Clinton Be the Agent of Her Campaign’s Undoing—Again?

This article appeared 
at Bloomberg


She’ll have to avoid the infighting that plagued her mismanaged 2008 run for the presidency

The last time Hillary Clinton was riding high as a presidential candidate was March 5, 2008. She had just beaten Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries. Outwardly, Clinton finally seemed to have found her voice. She had momentum. But on the inside, her campaign was coming apart. Top lieutenants were bitterly divided into rival camps, pushing contrary strategies. One side wanted Clinton to attack her upstart opponent. The other urged her to display a softer, more feminine side to build support. Mostly, though, her advisers were consumed with destroying each other, as a flood of leaked e-mails later made clear.

The glow of her victories didn’t last. On the front page of the next day’s Washington Post, the feuding and back-stabbing spilled into public view: “Even in Victory, Clinton Team is Battling Itself.” This proved too much for Robert Barnett, the Washington super-lawyer and longtime adviser to the Clintons, who fired off an e-mail lighting into her senior staff:

“STOP IT!!!! I have help [sic] my tongue for weeks. After this morning’s WP story, no longer. This makes me sick. This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable, and unacceptable. … It must stop.”

It didn’t. Clinton’s campaign never adjusted and finally collapsed, brought down by the chaos she allowed to flourish.

The seven years since Hillary Clinton’s last presidential bid have induced a kind of amnesia about the true reason for her loss, a subject newly relevant now she’s running again. Several factors cloud our ability to recollect it clearly: the passage of time; Democrats’ desire to put a bruising primary race behind them; and, above all, the mythologizing of Barack Obama’s campaign brain trust, which casts him as a figure of destiny and her as someone who history swept aside.

Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images 


Obama was indeed a rare talent, but his skill alone wasn’t what cinched the nomination. Clinton blew a winnable race, despite having had almost every conceivable advantage. Oddly, the one thing she truly lacked was the very thing she chose to present as her primary qualification for the presidency:

executive leadership skills. As Clinton often declared, in an obvious dig at Obama’s inexperience, she alone had the capacity to “do the job from Day One.” Yet whatever management skills Clinton may possess, she didn’t deploy in 2008.

Although Clinton herself received Barnett’s e-mail and many more like it, she didn’t act, and the feuding carried on. In his e-mail, Barnett promised that a reckoning would come soon enough. “After this campaign is over, there will be plenty of time to assess blame or claim credit,” he wrote. But the imperative after Clinton’s grudging, drawn-out concession was to project an image of Democratic unity so as not to impede Obama’s path to the White House. The assessment never came. Instead, when the Democratic primary campaign was over, many of her top advisers leaked internal e-mails and strategy memos—I was the grateful recipient of many of these—that provide the best glimpse of Clinton’s management shortcomings.

The disputes first arose over how Clinton should present herself. In a series of memos, her chief strategist, Mark Penn, urged her to be “the power candidate” because most voters “see the presidents as the ‘father’ of the country [although] they are open to the first father being a woman.” Penn viewed Margaret Thatcher as a model and counseled Clinton not to concern herself with “good humor and warmth.” He wrote, “We are more Thatcher than anyone else. … We want to intimidate.” Throughout the campaign, Penn and Bill Clinton favored aggressive attacks.

Other senior advisers, such as Harold Ickes and Mandy Grunwald, disagreed. They rejected the “Iron Lady” strategy and pushed Clinton to emphasize her softer side, worried that attacking Obama would only deepen the impression of Clinton as imperious and aloof. Throughout the primaries, Clinton vacillated between hard (attacking Obama) and soft (crying in New Hampshire), never settling on a strategy.

Within the campaign, leaks became the weapon of choice to influence decisions. Early on, Clinton’s deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, wrote a memo pointing out the steep cost and risk of competing in Iowa, since, if Clinton lost there, it would shatter the idea of her inevitability. “This effort may bankrupt the campaign and provide little if any political advantage,” he wrote. Henry’s memo was leaked to the New York Times, forcing Clinton to commit to competing in the state—which Obama won, destroying, sure enough, any sense that she was unbeatable.

Things got so bad that someone upset over losing a parking spot even leaked an e-mail demanding that junior staffers move their cars to free up spaces for the campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, and her staff. The intention was simply to embarrass Doyle.

By April 2008, Doyle had been replaced and Penn sidelined, but still the chaos rolled on. Advisers leaked and freelanced to the press with impunity. “I don’t mean to be an asshole, but …,” the pollster Geoff Garin, Penn’s replacement, wrote in an April e-mail, later leaked, that was intended to buttress the campaign’s lead spokesman, “Senator Clinton has given Howard Wolfson both the responsibility and the authority to make final decisions about how this campaign delivers its messages.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign so badly mismanaged its finances that it lacked the resources to compete, even after the candidate made a personal loan of $5 million. From the outset, she seemed to operate from the premise that the Clinton brand was invincible, which bred complacency and left her vulnerable to a nimble challenger. In fact, Clinton’s downfall was not so different from that of General Motors, another storied American brand sliding toward bankruptcy that summer due to mismanagement.

Obama would eventually bail out GM, and he rescued Clinton from political bankruptcy, too. Today, both are thriving. Making Clinton Secretary of State provided her with a platform to rebuild her career. Clinton has always been a mediocre candidate on the stump, but over the years she has made herself into a supremely effective politician. Much as she did during her Senate tenure, Clinton used her time at the State Department to rehabilitate her political image. She did so mainly by dint of hard work, though she was willing to subordinate her ego and ambition to someone else’s, at least for a spell.
Leaked internal e-mails and strategy memos provide the best glimpse of Clinton’s management shortcomings

As Secretary of State, Clinton won near-universal respect and a reputation for brisk competence, all while managing to avoid taking any major risks that might have set her back. (Republicans are trying anyway, with her handling of the Benghazi attacks.) Her billboard achievement at Foggy Bottom—a detail that manages to find its way into every book, speech, and profile of her—is that she logged nearly a million miles jetting back and forth across the globe, a portrait of diligence in service to her country. During this period, her favorability ratings soared. Clinton entered the State Department in January 2009 surrounded by question marks; by the time she left in February 2013, she was the Democratic-nominee-in-waiting.

That impression has only deepened as potential opponents such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have opted not to run. Those who do appear likely to challenge her (Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb) barely register in the polls and have little hope of securing the political talent and resources necessary to pose a threat. Despite the insistence of those in Clinton’s inner circle that she does not consider herself the “inevitable” nominee, that’s what she appears to be. This time, no Obama-like figure is going to test her.
The danger for Democrats, then, is that Clinton won’t come under any real pressure until next summer, when she faces the Republican nominee. No one knows whether she’ll be able to guide her campaign through adversity or whether she’ll again be the agent of her own undoing. Does CEO Clinton really exist or not?

She has taken several obvious steps in the right direction, such as appointing a strong chairman, John Podesta, to prevent any more damaging factionalism, and seeking to ease the mutual antagonism with the press. As her announcement video confirmed, she’ll focus squarely on the issue of middle-class economic advancement, in counterpoint to Democrats’ disastrous micro-obsessed campaigns in the last midterm elections.

But there have also been pointed reminders of the candidate who never settled on a strategy, tried to be all things to all people, and lost. Clinton’s long delay in addressing the uproar over her private e-mail server while at State was, according to Politico, the result of differences among her advisers over when and how to respond. The tense press conference that followed was more old Hillary than new.

To improve the culture, Clinton has made a point of keeping many of her quarrelsome old advisers at arm’s length and seeding her new operation with veterans of the “no-drama” Obama campaigns. But Clinton advisers never really go away; they just fall back and await their moment to return. This is probably why Clinton chose a new campaign manager, Robby Mook, who’s not only experienced in Obama’s data-driven culture but has a reputation for gracefully handling outsized egos while keeping them at arm’s length. Knowing what he might encounter, Mook sent a memo in early April urging an attitude of positivity and cooperation. Lovely sentiment, but it may not be sufficient. Even Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist in the last campaign, made early gestures of goodwill, such as presenting his senior colleagues silver bowls etched with the words of Horace Mann: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” It didn’t keep the campaign from imploding. Huma Abedin, her close aide for years, has been installed just beneath Podesta as the campaign’s vice chair.

The best way to assert control over her new operation is to develop a clear, overarching rationale for her candidacy

Perhaps the biggest management challenge of all is the one she’s married to. Bill Clinton can be any candidate’s most effective advocate, as Obama discovered at the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte. But in 2008, he was mostly a liability, offending many Democratic voters with comments that demeaned Obama’s victory in South Carolina and referring to his opposition to the Iraq War as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

All the careful planning and creative imagery—the upbeat video, the Iowa road trip—intended to distinguish Clinton from the candidate who ran last time, won’t matter if she hasn’t realized that her own shortcomings are what doomed her. In the end, she’s the only one with plausible authority to direct her own campaign. And the best way to assert control of her new operation would be for her to develop what was so sorely missing last time—a clear, overarching justification for her candidacy.

The best rationale for Clinton 2016 is the same one embedded in the attacks Republicans are already making: that she’s a creature of Washington who embodies the past, and that it’s time for a new face and an outsider. Clinton can’t avoid this critique. But she can subvert it by presenting her two decades in the White House, Senate, and State Department as experience that’s left her uniquely equipped to do what polls say Americans are pining for: Make Washington function better.

Clinton has always been called a “polarizing” figure (an increasingly meaningless designation that applies to every national politician, as voters have become more partisan). But she has an underappreciated credential that could be a weapon in the upcoming race: a record of thriving in an acrimonious, Republican-dominated climate like the one we have now.

In 2000, the same year George W. Bush was elected on the promise to be “a uniter, not a divider,” Clinton won a New York Senate seat. The Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, captured the prevailing Republican animus toward her when he suggested, somewhat too eagerly, that she might get “hit by lightning” before taking her seat.

During most of her time in the Senate, Lott’s party controlled one or both houses of Congress and the White House. Clinton couldn’t ignore hostile Republicans. “The thing about Hillary, whether you like her or not, is that she wants to make progress on issues,” says Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and Clinton’s former legislative director in the Senate. “I worked for her at a time when Democrats were in the minority, so you really couldn’t make any progress without Republicans. Back then, Congress didn’t feel superfunctional. But she developed really good relationships, particularly with John McCain and Lindsey Graham.”

By the time she left the Senate, Clinton, not Bush, had proved to be the uniter. By my count, she teamed up on legislation with 49 different Republicans, including such notable critics as Lott, Graham, and even Tom DeLay, all three of whom were key figures in her husband’s impeachment.

As voters begin contemplating who should become the next president, Clinton can, if she chooses, make the strongest claim that she’s best suited to manage in the deteriorating conditions in Washington. How much will that matter? Probably more than at any time in the recent past. Beneath Americans’ intensely negative feelings toward Washington, and Congress in particular, lies an appreciation that the job of making the government function effectively will require more than just a new occupant in the Oval Office. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found that more Americans desire “experience” (55 percent) than “a new direction” (37 percent) in a presidential candidate. Clinton’s old line about her readiness to “do the job from Day One” may be more compelling this time around.

A steady majority of Americans continue to tell pollsters that they want compromise from Washington. Here, too, Clinton may have hidden appeal. A recent Pew Research poll found they believe by a 4-to-1 margin that women are better at working out compromises than men.
It would be no small irony if the exhaustion with partisanship that these numbers show turned out to be a positive, rather than a negative, force for Hillary Clinton. Of course, the prerequisite to any claim that she can make Washington function more effectively is that Clinton first pass the test she failed before—and run a professional campaign.

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  • Interesting read but the fact of the matter is the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) not only decide who will run for president but will decide who will become president. It will probably be between Nazi Jeb Bush and Communist Hillary Clinton. Either way we're screwed big time and the NWO agenda continues to move forward.

  • I was a top commentator at VT for years.
    Witness the total destruction of Gordon Duff.
    ( I am not trying to deflect away from the message of abel danger, this is important )


  • Thanks cmonkey – It's sick that they're using the veterans name for such lies.

    PLEASE read the ADL Exposé by Bill Cooper. It is NOT anti-semetic. It ties all of this together and clearly shows the crime syndicate connection which leads to ISIS, MS-13 and everything that has been happening to our country since the assassination of Abe Lincoln until today. We've been tricked by slogans and shamed into complacency.


    If you want more


    listen to his mystery babylon series. We need to stop fighting with each other and study the truth. Once they're exposed we can hopefully peacefully restore the country that has been torn in secret by Marxist Socialist Communist etc …

  • It looks like everyone at abel danger is a terrorist. There is so much proof in that document I linked above. We're getting dangerously close to losing our freedom now. They serve their British Masters and that is an historical FACT!

    "Since the ADL has declared war on the patriots of this country,
including patriotic Jewish people–all people in fact who are patriots,
who understand that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the only
things that protect us from despotism, from the same kinds of things
that happened to the Jews, to the gypsies, to the Poles, to the blacks,
to the Catholics in Germany during World War II.

And believe me, folks, the ADL is not Jews and it is not a
representation of the Jewish people.  They serve their British masters
only.  They manipulate the Jews through lies and deception; through that
old bugaboo:  anti-semitism; by painting swastikas on walls; and by
taking out parade permits for the Nazi Party.

Do you hear what I'm saying?

I'm angry.  Patriotic Americans in this country of all races, religions,
and creeds have been labeled as right-wing, fanatic terrorists,
threatening to overthrow the United States government.  And it is a
lie.  The label has come from the ADL.  We have been called racists and
anti-semitic, and it is a lie.

Before I go any further, I want to thank all of the Jewish patriots in
this country who have called me and FAXed me with their support in this
effort, and their denouncement of the ADL.  And since the ADL is so
powerful, I can't tell you who these people are because I don't want
them to get a visit in the middle of the night.  For the ADL is also a
pack of goons and terrorists who have been known to perpetrate violence
on several occasions.

Tonight, you're going to hear the truth for the first time in your life
about the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.  And you're going to
hear it Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday of
next week.  And if necessary on and on, until you understand just 
exactly who these people are."

  • In repeated, flagrant violation of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal
Revenue Service Codes, the ADL operates as a tax-exempt public interest
corporation, while in reality, ladies and gentlemen, it engages in a
wide range of activities that are inherently criminal in nature,
including interference in the judicial and law enforcement process;
support for domestic and international terrorist organizations;
instigation of hate crimes; espionage; support for suspected
international narcotics traffickers; unregistered political activities;
and covert activities on behalf of both hostile foreign governments and
United States government, agencies generally linked to the International
Social Democracy.

It is a matter of historical record that before, during, and immediately
after World War II, the Anti-Defamation League functioned as a covert
action arm of the British Special Operations Executive under its North
American Chief, Sir William Stephenson , in close liaison with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation's Division V–the Division that I have
named as being implicated in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Through its 151-member National Commission and its paid staff
maintaining regional offices in 31 cities in the United States, and a
number of locations in Europe, the Middle East, Ibarow America,
and the Soviet Union–in fact, a Moscow office is in the process of
being opened at the invitation of President Mikhail Gorbachev at the
time this report was written–the ADL operates as a covert strike force,
whose corrupting influence extends into the pores of the financial
community, the legal establishment, the media, and the United States
government, at the federal, state, and local level.

And everything that I am stating tonight, and will state in the
following nights, have been proven, can be proven, and is a matter of
fact.  And most of it is in the public record.

  • Yeah I was duped too. Looks like it was straight out of the 'Protocols'

    Protocol XII Control of the Press
    11. In the third rank we shall set up our own, to all appearance, off position, which, in at least one of its organs, will present what looks like the very antipodes to us. Our real opponents at heart will accept this simulated opposition as their own and will show us their cards.