Breaking Down the Clinton Campaign, Mistake by Mistake

Book review: Shattered, by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes

The absurdities of the election – Russian cyberattacks, a rogue FBI director, and an orange-hued reality-TV star winning the Republican nomination – intensified the sense of grief for Hillary, Bill, and their inner circle.” As they did for all of us, really. Reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes interviewed top aides, movers and shakers within Hillary Clinton’s campaign machine as it operated, promising not to use any material until after the election.

I know I’m reviewing too many election loss or Clinton-related books lately, but I can’t help it! Bear with me. It’s coping. Trying to better understand what’s going on in my country and where we go from here.

Shattered gives a glimpse inside her problematic campaign using the reporters’ experiences and observations plus insight from insiders and campaign staffers. It’s presented in a quickly readable, just-the-facts narrative. We witness their frustrations, hopes, victories and decision-making processes with explanatory commentary as the election advances. It’s open and honest about mistakes and shortcomings.

Often it reads like a horror story, passages signaling impending doom as tension builds, since we know what’s coming and have a better idea of what caused it. It doesn’t reveal much new, considering what’s trickled out of the media thus far already. But it layers additional clarity and understanding, thanks to the 20/20 vision of hindsight, onto the facts that we could recite verbatim about what went wrong where.

As Hillary explains the elements that came into play: On a phone call with a longtime friend a couple of days after the election, Hillary was much less accepting of her defeat. She put a fine point on the factors she believed cost her the presidency: the FBI (Comey), the KGB (the old name for Russia’s intelligence service), and the KKK (the support Trump got from white nationalists).”

It was all that, but much more.

Like Susan Bordo’s The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, Shattered explores, from a liberal perspective, the factors that stacked up against Hillary. But unlike Bordo’s analysis, Clinton’s gender isn’t seen here as the major key to downfall. Bordo was clear on that thesis and with her academic feminist background she argued a good case, but I think the array of factors considered here, methodically outlined, make more sense. There was a perfect storm of sorts, some external and some internal and/or of the Clintons’ own making, although they’re hesitant to accept full responsibility for factors they controlled. This distills the message:

“Hillary – who had been the target of so much venom over the years and who had become a disciple of Obama’s data-driven campaign style – sided with a younger generation that heavily favored science over the art of politics. At one point, plans had been laid to replace Mook as the person in charge of her general-election campaign. Hillary stuck with him. And after the election, she chose to blame factors other than the strategy she and her campaign manager had pursued. From Hillary’s perspective, external forces created a perfect storm that wiped her out.”

One disappointing exchange shows a side of Hillary that she doesn’t publicly display, as she and Bill sternly lectured and criticized aides in her Brooklyn office (an “ass-chewing”, one says) for not finding the right way to get her message across:

“…the scapegoating tone and tenor revealed that the Clintons were either living on another planet or at least having emotional and intellectual difficulty coming to terms with the reality that only Hillary was culpable and only Hillary could turn things around. 

Then there were the tactics of the unusual opposition. When Hillary placed confidence in the “Blue Wall” of traditionally-Democratic voting states, “Trump was taking the opposite tack. Instead of trying to increase the number of competitive states, he concentrated intently on a handful that carried large numbers of electoral votes. Trump focused, in particular, on Rust Belt states Obama won, where his tough-talking Queens bravado and isolationist message played well with working-class whites.”

Or when she decides to streamline her campaign and control her often “unlikeable” public image by not being everywhere all the time:

“Now, just as she had extended her lead, it felt like Hillary was easing back. She was working the fundraising circuit hard, but for the public – and for her own staffers in the states – she had all but vanished from view. And she had done so at precisely the moment that Trump was starting to rev his engine.”

And there’s another fundamental problem. Even Hillary’s staff feels they don’t know her well; Bill and Hillary were convinced they didn’t understand her well enough to recognize her campaign’s message and deliver that to the voters – when the reality was that she didn’t present a cohesive, unified message that could be easily distilled in election-ready sound bites and simplified explanations. Despite decades in the public eye and public service, she remained enigmatic, elitist, and with obfuscated intentions.

There are some laughable passages about Trump, in a laugh-to-keep-from-crying way. Consultant Philippe Reines gets into full character, baggy suit and all, mimicking Trump so Hillary can practice debating him. That gives us some comic relief, at least, as they try to prep her for his particular brand of rude, crude, sometimes downright bizarre behavior. “The line between accurately portraying Trump and behaving like a buffoon was particularly fine.”

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I struggle to understand the level of vitriol that’s aimed at Hillary. She herself sums up how aware she is of this phenomenon too, and I couldn’t help but feel that in addition to the many factors that Shattered reveals as bringing about this loss, that general dislike was not an insignificant one.

“I know I engender bad reactions from people, and I always have,” she confided in an aide who was traveling with her on a swing through several battleground states. “There are some people in whom I bring out the worst. I know that about myself, and I don’t know why that is. But it is.”

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign
by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes
published April 18, 2017 by Crown (Random House)

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