New book goes behind the scenes of Clinton's election loss
Presidential campaigns tend to dominate American media for months and even years at a time, but the full story is usually saved for after the results are in. And now that we’re months removed from Donald Trump’s electoral upset over Hillary Clinton, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’ Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign is the first major campaign postmortem across the finish line. Just like Game Change and Double Down (Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s bestselling chronicles of the 2008 and 2012 races), Shattered comes filled with plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes stories about the 2016 election. Its focus is specifically on the inner machinations of the Clinton campaign, with additional insights into the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns sprinkled in at the points they crossed paths with “Clintonworld” (the book’s term for the many political consultants and campaign operatives in the Clintons’ expansive orbit).
Compiled from anonymous interviews with more than 100 sources “up and down the ranks of the campaign,” Shattered provides a detailed timeline of how a “winnable race” was lost. EW rounded up five juicy revelations from the book.
1. Hillary’s major failure
Although Shattered is filled with examples of bad decisions and mishandled crises, it posits the Clinton campaign’s main failure was Hillary’s inability to explain “her motivation for seeking the presidency.” As the first female presidential nominee of a major party in the U.S., Clinton was a groundbreaking candidate. But her candidacy was also tied to the complicated presidential legacies of her husband Bill and her former boss Barack Obama. “Hillary still struggled with whether she was running for Bill Clinton’s third term, Obama’s third term, or her own first term,” write Allen and Parnes.
That lack of clarity was compounded by Clinton’s personal preference for explaining the nooks and crannies of specific policy, while Sanders and Trump offered broad but energizing visions for the country. Allen and Parnes report that Clinton herself admitted during the campaign, “I don’t understand what’s happening with the country. I can’t get my arms around it.”
2. Competing power centers within the campaign
One of Shattered’s main focuses is the chaotic dynamic inside Clinton’s campaign team. Allen and Parnes write that from the beginning, the staff was more or less divided into four subgroups: the “Mook Mafia,” led by campaign manager Robby Mook and his team of data analytics specialists; the “State Crew,” consisting of Huma Abedin and other veterans of Clinton’s time in the State Department; the “Consultants,” led by Joel Benenson; and the “Communications Shop,” led by communications director Jennifer Palmieri. These competing power centers often came into conflict. Mook’s preference for new data-driven methods over old-school campaigning rankled the political veterans, and he often used his power to destroy potential rivals, developing “a reputation for caring as much about his own brand, and promoting his own people, as he did about getting Hillary elected,” write Allen and Parnes. All of this, the authors emphasize, stemmed from Hillary, who “built a team almost designed to feud.”
3. How the 2008 primary led to Hillary’s email scandal
Allen and Parnes’ reporting emphasizes that Hillary Clinton prizes loyalty above all else in her subordinates. So after her close primary defeat to Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton assigned two aides to “assign loyalty scores to members of Congress” based on whether or not they’d supported her in that primary. She also combed through her campaign’s email server to find out who leaked what to the media, Allen and Parnes write. Apparently, the lesson she took from that experience was that she must protect her own emails from similar scrutiny, and as Secretary of State, she created the private email server that went on to plague her throughout the campaign — hampering her ability to build a ground game, exacerbating the impact of other unrelated “email” scandals like the DNC leaks, and deepening American voters’ already-sizable distrust of the Clintons. Both Hillary and Bill blamed the campaign staff for failing to successfully bury the story, but Allen and Parnes write, “neither Clinton could accept the simple fact that Hillary had hamstrung her own campaign and dealt the most serious blow to her own presidential aspirations.”
4. How close Elizabeth Warren came to the VP nomination
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta first drew up a list of potential vice-presidential nominees, dividing it into seven categories: “Latinos, female senators, male senators, African-Americans, high-ranking military officials, business leaders, and Bernie Sanders.” Sanders was never really on the table after their brutal primary battle, but choosing Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had the potential to excite Sanders’ voters and other Democratic voters who still harbored lingering doubts about Clinton. So Clinton seriously considered Warren for the nomination until the last minute, but ultimately, according to Allen and Parnes, “Clinton wanted a governing partner, someone who saw the world in a similar way and could help her run the executive branch. She just didn’t know if she could trust Warren to be pragmatic and constructive.” Then there was Obama, who saw Clinton as the heir to his legacy and resented Warren “for what he saw as demagoguing against him on economic issues and for wreaking havoc when he nominated banker Antonio Weiss as an undersecretary at the Treasury Department.” Clinton ultimately went with the man who had been Obama’s runner-up VP pick in 2008, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, even though “Kaine didn’t give her a state she couldn’t win on her own, add populist progressive flavor to the ticket, or excite anyone — including the candidate herself.”
5. Why Clinton didn’t compete harder in the Rust Belt
Allen and Parnes name their chapter chronicling Clinton’s defeat in the Michigan primary “Canary in the Auto Plant.” After all, Clinton’s surprising loss to Bernie Sanders in that state ended up being a harbinger of her poor performance in the Midwest during the general election. Mook and other campaign staff did not take their primary loss as an indication they should concentrate more on the so-called “Rust Belt,” but rather that they should de-emphasize operations there. Per Allen and Parnes: “One of the lessons Mook and his allies took from Michigan was that Hillary was better off not getting into an all-out war with her opponent in states where non-college-educated whites could be the decisive demographic… Mook’s clique looked at the elevation of the Michigan primary as a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated.” So during the general election campaign, Hillary didn’t even set foot in Wisconsin, another “Rust Belt” state. Mook, who preferred targeting likely Clinton voters based on analytics rather than emphasizing a strong ground game to persuade fence-sitters, “wouldn’t provide basic resources like campaign literature” to staffers there. Trump ended up winning both Michigan and Wisconsin in the general, shattering the Democrats’ so-called “blue wall,” and securing his path to victory in the Electoral College.
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes is available now here.