The Hillary Clinton campaign was worse than you — or I — thought. That's the message of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes' Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. Doomed in retrospect, mind you; not many of us — including me — thought it was doomed at the time.
Here are a couple of passages that struck me as astonishing.
1. "Hillary was already" — in spring 2015 — "inaccessible to most of her own staff, preferring to communicate through [Huma] Abedin." And Huma wasn't very accessible to anyone else. This led to screw-ups. In May 2015, communications director Jennifer Palmieri asked Abedin which TV interviewer Clinton would prefer for her first post-emails-revelation interview. Abedin said, "Brianna," and so the interview was set up with CNN's Brianna Keilar, who delivered a tough interviewer. "Only it turned out that Hillary had said 'Bianna'—as in Bianna Golodryga of Yahoo! News, the wife of former Clinton administration economic aide [and Obama OMB Director] Peter Orszag." Oops!
2. Hillary and Bill Clinton didn't think her email system was a political problem. "Her inability to just do a national interview and communicate genuine feelings of remorse and regret is now, I fear, becoming a character problem (more so than honesty)," the authors quote Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden as saying. Here and elsewhere Tanden appears a source of good judgment, and one who, like Cassandra, is usually disregarded.
3. The Clintons' misjudgment of the emails was shared by some on her staff. "The day after the Times story popped online, [Jennifer] Palmieri and [Dan] Schwerin floated the idea of inserting a joke about the emails into an upcoming speech to the abortion rights group EMILY's List." Unfortunately, the authors don't provide an example of the jokes the staffers had in mind, reporting merely that experienced staffer Mandy Grunwald shot down the idea.
4. "When Hillary had been advised by some allies not to speak to banks before the campaign, one confidant said, her response had been "They'll hit us on something." Apparently the woman who deducted as charitable contributions each piece of underwear donated to Goodwill was unwilling to give up the $225,000 per speech Goldman Sachs was prepared to pay — even when her net worth and her husband's were already above $100,000,000.
5. Campaign manager Robby Mook "was a data analytics disciple who decided where to hire staff, send the candidate and pay for ads based on the information numbers crunchers gave him about voters. . . . It was a lot less expensive for data experts to collect and analyze information provided by voters than it was for pollsters to conduct expensive opinion research." This from a guy running a $1 billion campaign that was outspending the opposition 2-1. "He declined to use pollsters to track voter preferences in the final three weeks of the campaign," even after the Comey letter of October 28.
6. On 7:45 Eastern time election night, a Tallahassee-based consultant reported that Florida was "in real bad shape." Donald Trump was running far ahead in large counties outside the biggest metropolitan areas, places filled with non-college white migrants from the Midwest and South. "You're going to come up short."
"Our model is holding," was Mook's analytics-reliant response. "But inside one of the rooms on the Clinton floor at the Peninsula a frightening realization slowly took hold on Mook and [analytics director] Kriegel as they watched results pour in from must-win states. Their vaunted model was way off in Florida. Worse, they had missed the mark in North Carolina, too. . . . The way Trump was running up the score in areas full of non-college-educated whites sent shivers down their spines. If the models were so wrong, they could be off in the same way in other parts of the country. They were looking at the early warning signs of a wave; all they could do was hope that it didn't wash over the Rust Belt."
Which, of course, it did. One way to look at the last two presidential elections is that the large majority of voters voted the same way in both. There were two major shifts, of college-educated whites who shifted away from Donald Trump and of non-college-educated whites who shifted toward him. Robby Mook, and just about the entire Clinton campaign, missed the second shift until the clock was approaching nine on election night.
Allen and Parnes' account of election night is the most dramatic part of the book, reminiscent of the account of an election night debacle in Edwin O'Connor's novel, based on the Boston political boss James Michael Curley, The Last Hurrah. The difference is that O'Connor's character quickly grasped what went wrong. Hillary Clinton backed Robby Mook's reliance on data analytics the whole way.
Do you think, as many people do, that Donald Trump is running a chaotic and incompetent administration? Read Shattered, and you may come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton would have done worse.