Her campaign was an unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority, petty jealousies, distorted priorities, and no sense of greater purpose. Worse, no one was in charge who could figure out how to make the campaign bigger than a flawed candidate’s sense of entitlement and inevitability
by Hillary Clinton
Simon & Schuster, 2017, 512 pages, $45
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign
Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes
Crown, 2017, 480 pages, $44.99
Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, is yet another attempt on her part to explain why, against expectations, she lost the presidential election this time last year to business mogul and reality television personality Donald J. Trump. The central assertion is that her second bid for the White House was waylaid by a perfect storm, an implausible assortment of external forces. Candidate Hillary Clinton, in other words, is a victim of circumstances not of her making. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign tells a very different story. The former First Lady and Secretary of State, according to our authors, was very much the master of her own demise.
The very first thing to say about Allen and Parnes is that they are not Republican partisans, let alone Donald Trump aficionados. The depiction of candidate Trump in Shattered rarely goes beyond a two-dimensional caricature. One of the few times the man who would become the forty-fifth President of the United States is given any credence occurs in the chapter on the presidential debates. The brilliant (and sharp-tongued) political adviser and consultant Philippe Reines was given the role of impersonating Donald Trump in Clinton’s preparation for the presidential debates. Democratic apparatchiks Karen Dunn and Ron Klain, who worked with Reines, came to the conclusion that “Trump, contrary to popular opinion, had actually put forth a lot of policy ideas”. Hillary’s opponent, when the Democrats took a closer look, turned out to be something more than a Saturday Night Live travesty.
Shattered, assisted by more than 100 sources in Team Hillary, provides an astonishing view of the presidential campaign from the perspective of top players in the Clinton camp. The plan all along, of course, had been that the Clintons would one day make a triumphal return to the White House. However, by 2015 an angry and unsettled American electorate was reluctant to buy into the Clintons’ sense of entitlement and personal destiny. According to Allen and Parnes, neither Hillary nor any of her campaign’s 800 paid staff were able to advance much on that: “The campaign was an unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority, petty jealousies, distorted priorities, and no sense of greater purpose. No one was in charge, and no one had figured how to make the campaign bigger than Hillary.” The bottom line, then, is that Hillary Clinton, in the midst of a left-and-right-wing populist insurrection, never had “a vision to articulate”.
This review appears in the November edition of Quadrant.
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Allen and Parnes credit Hillary Clinton with genuine personal strengths, and yet few of them translate into the kind of political attributes once enjoyed by her husband. She might be warm and humorous in an intimate setting but on a bigger stage she seldom radiated affability. Often loyal to long-time friends and admirers, her management style as a campaigner was secretive and divisive. Without any special qualities as a politician, Hillary desperately needed to come up with a reason why ordinary people should have jumped aboard her bandwagon, but it always came back to one version or another of Identity Politics, starting with the insistence that “gender was an important facet of her narrative”—in much the same way Barack Obama’s African pedigree had been a crucial aspect of his winning narrative.
Hillary Clinton’s self-serving claim—a vote for me is a vote for all women—turned out to be a blunt instrument, and a number of her top aides “longed for her to find her own David Axelrod”. The tactical genius of Axelrod, a key consultant to Barack Obama back in the 2008 presidential campaign, was to present Obama as a symbol of reconciliation: the son of an African father and white mother who could heal a divided nation. President Obama, as we now know, went on to divide America more than ever with his bailout of the big banks, implementation of Obamacare, IRS targeting of conservatives, overtures to Black Lives Matter, insistence on the Iran nuclear deal, refusal to call out radical Islamic terrorism and so on, but that is another matter. The point is that he ran for the Oval Office as the would-be unifier.
According to Allen and Parnes, even Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, knew that playing the gender card would not in itself swing the election her way: “lots of people are going to say it would be neat for a woman to be president but that does not mean that’s actually why they will vote for her”. Although a plurality of women voted for Clinton a majority of white women did not. To this very day Hillary Clinton blames misogyny as one reason why more American voters did not support her, when any reasonable observer is going to agree with Robby Mook that a female president would be “neat” but the candidate’s gender is not sufficient reason to vote for her. Besides, the accusation of misogyny—a conspiracy theory at best—cannot be supported by the fact that a plurality of American voters did back Hillary Clinton’s candidature on Election Day. Her mistake, as Shattered explains, was to put much less time and effort than the Trump campaign into winning crucial electoral votes—of men and women—in the economically struggling Midwestern states. Clinton’s recent assertion that women who did not vote for her in 2016 had “disrespected themselves” says a lot about the soft totalitarianism of identity politics.
In the opinion of Allen and Parnes, Clinton’s first campaign speech, delivered in the state of New York, contained no clear reason why the voters of America needed her at the helm. She acknowledged the importance of PC rectitude and the Democratic Party’s aspirant rainbow of discontents—African-Americans, Hispanics, the LGBT community and women of all races and sexual orientations—before talking vaguely about the need for economic opportunity, but there was “no overarching narrative explaining her candidacy”. That speech, according to one of the authors’ anonymous sources, “reflected a lot of what would come afterward”. As members of Team Clinton concluded: “Hillary had been running for president and still didn’t really have a rationale.” All she possessed, in truth, was “a narrative of dynastic privilege” at a time when the American electorate had gone rogue.
Neither Russian hacking nor James Comey can be blamed for the embarrassing reverses Hillary Clinton experienced at the hands of Bernie Sanders, her unlikely opponent in the primaries. Clinton, in What Happened, faults President Obama for advising her not to play hardball with the junior senator from Vermont. Shattered tells a different tale. Clinton and her capacious entourage had no idea how to counter the phenomenon of Sanders’s Left-populist insurrection. The American electorate, in the Midwestern states and elsewhere, was “angry with the political class” and aware that “recovery from the recession had been quicker for Wall Street and big corporations than for ordinary citizens”. Pertinently, Hillary Clinton, the quintessential political insider, made millions from her confidential speeches to Wall Street companies after relinquishing her position as Secretary of State at the beginning of 2013. Bernie’s best moment in his sparring with Hillary was his quip that, given the value of those Wall Street speeches, she surely owed it to the world to disclose the embargoed transcripts.
The Hillary Clinton machine fared even worse combatting Trump’s populist movement. Clinton’s disparagement of Trump’s “basket of deplorables” backers, proclaimed at the September 9 LGBT gala for the Hillary Victory Fund in New York, made no political sense. It was one thing to portray Donald Trump as “temperamentally unfit for the presidency” but to label as “irredeemable” those contemplating a protest vote against her because they were fed up with the political class—of which she and her husband were prominent members—only confirmed what disgruntled voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were already thinking. One campaign staffer, quoted in Shattered, gave this reaction to Clinton’s attack: “She didn’t have the feel, the empathy.” For Clinton (and the PC brigade in general) it is always Onward together—just as long as you agree with them.
Hillary, in What Happened, actually addresses the question of whether Trump voters deserve her empathy. In the end, after equivocating for a moment, the answer is negative: “I look at the people at Trump’s rallies, cheering for his hateful rants, and I wonder: Where’s their empathy and understanding?” Hillary Clinton still insists Donald Trump “has given a lot of encouragement and rhetorical support to the Ku Klux Klan”. Really? During Clinton’s 2016 campaign the bogus charge of White Privilege seems to have metamorphosed into White Supremacism. We cannot be surprised, therefore, that the losing presidential candidate, along with the mainstream media, Hollywood celebrities and now highly paid NFL players, has joined “the Resistance”. It is one way to rationalise political defeat.
Allen and Parnes, we should note, are careful to limit their criticism of Hillary Clinton. In the chapter that deals with the 2015 emergence of the e-mail story, “The Summer of the Server”, Hillary appears to be an incongruous mix of naivety, paranoia and self-obsession, when an even tougher judgment might be applicable. Thus, Shattered speaks of Clinton’s “blindness to the massive conflicts of interest created by the intersection of her presidential campaign, her government service, her philanthropic work, her pursuit of personal enrichment, and her husband’s various and sundry public and private activities”. In other words, she is presented as something less than the Crooked Hillary character derided by Donald Trump. The authors simply make the case that Clinton was the wrong candidate, an establishment figure with little political nous, to be navigating the headwinds of a populist tempest—but it is enough to explain why her campaign was doomed.
Shattered gives us a first-hand account of how Hillary Clinton responded to James Comey’s triple intervention in the presidential race—she did not like any of them. This begs the question, however, of why Secretary of State Clinton set up a private server in the first place, and why her staff destroyed the evidence that would have either cleared her or implicated her in criminal actions in the midst of “massive conflicts of interest”. And what did Bill Clinton really say to Attorney-General Loretta Lynch in the notorious “tarmac meeting”? And why did Huma Abedin, the wife of sexual deviant Anthony Weiner, enjoy so much power in Team Hillary? At some point during the campaign the American voter had every right to wonder if the candidate “temperamentally unfit for the presidency” was not so much Donald John Trump as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton’s first response to defeat on Election Night, November 8, 2016, was undoubtedly the right one. Though she had put everything—including a staggering billion dollars—into attaining the Oval Office, Hillary fell short. Hereafter, it would be up to others to carry the baton of American-style leftism or progressivism. Clinton was going to graciously withdraw from the public spotlight and not malign Donald Trump in her concession speech: “It’s not my job any more to do this. Other people will criticise him. That’s their job. I have done it. I just lost it, and that is that.” The Clinton Era, dating back to 1992, had concluded. After a few hours of sleep, nonetheless, Hillary was having second thoughts.
Shattered hits pay dirt in the last chapter, titled “The Aftermath”. Here we learn that within twenty-four hours of the concession speech Robby Mook, John Podesta and the entire Hillary communications team were assembled in their Brooklyn headquarters “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up”. What follows can only be described as disturbing for anyone interested in the conventions of constitutional democracy, which includes the vanquished candidate accepting the legitimacy of the election: “For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centrepiece of the argument.” These miscreants make Richard Nixon—who had every reason to allege foul play in the 1960 presidential election but chose the high road—look like a saint. The irony of all ironies, perhaps, is that on election night President Obama, who believed that whipping the incorrigible Donald Trump should have been “too easy”, pleaded with Clinton to vouch for the inviolability of the electoral process: “Hillary was torn.”
It is not impossible to feel sorry for anybody who dreams of being the president of the United States and, in the early stages of vote counting on election night, fancies the dream is about to become reality. We can, as Bill would say, feel Hillary’s pain when the dream resolves into a nightmare—Florida turns against you, North Carolina, and then, to your dismay, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Democratic Party’s outwardly impregnable Blue Wall had fallen faster than the German Democratic Republic’s Berlin Wall. Hillary Clinton was shattered. Hollywood celebrities were shattered. CNBC’s Rachel Maddow was shattered. America’s entire Left Power Elite, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, was shattered—but that is no reason to allow leftist apologists to rewrite the history of the 2016 presidential election.
Daryl McCann is a regular contributor. He has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and he tweets at @dosakamccann.