Saturday, May 17, 2008

What Went Wrong? The Clinton Campaign Dissects Itself

The process to choose a Democratic presidential nominee hasn't finished yet, though it seems highly likely that Barack Obama will be the candidate.

I'll believe it's over when Obama actually has 2,025 delegates. Until then, I feel like I'm watching the last few minutes of a horror film, when the dumbass on the screen thinks he's killed the monster, whereas you know the beast is about to spring forth for one last attack.

Actually, observing a lot of Democrats, pundits, and bloggers (myself included), I'm reminded of another film analogy - the "Bring out your dead" routine in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Hillary: I'm not dead.
The Media: What?
The DNC: Nothing. Look, Edwards endorsed Obama.
Hillary: I'm not dead.
The Media: 'Ere, she says she's not dead.
DNC: Yes she is.
Hillary: I'm not.
The Media: She isn't.
The DNC: Well, she will be soon, she's very ill.
Hillary: I'm getting better. Look at West Virginia.
The DNC: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
The Media: Well, I can't take her like that. It's against regulations.
Hillary: I don't want to go on the cart.
The DNC: Oh, don't be such a baby.
The Media: I can't take her.
Hillary: Obama won't get any white votes!
The DNC: Oh, do me a favor.
The Media: I can't.
The DNC: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? She won't be long.
The Media: I promised I'd cover McCain's campaign.
The DNC: Well, when's your next round?
The Media: May 20, the Kentucky and Oregon primaries.
Hillary: I think I'll go for a walk. I'm inevitable!
The DNC: [To Hillary] You're not fooling anyone, you know.
[To the Media] Isn't there anything you could do?
Hillary: I feel happy. I feel happy. I'm going all the way to the convention!
[The Media glances up and down the street furtively, then silences Hillary with a whack of his club]
The DNC: Ah, thank you very much.
The Media: Not at all. See you in the General.
The DNC: Right.
Evidently, though, several people in Hillary's own campaign know the end is near, and they've started dissecting the corpse of their losing effort before the breath has even left the body.

Michelle Cottle, at the New Republic has a fascinating article called (surprise) "What Went Wrong," which pulls together statements from more than a dozen members of Hillary's staff, "from high-level advisors to grunt-level assistants, from money men to on-the-ground organizers."

Here's a good chunk of the article - I suggest, however, reading the whole thing:
One respondent sent in a list of Top 25 screw ups, the first three being:

1. Patti
2. Solis
3. Doyle

Patti Solis Doyle

While from another corner came another list, reading:

1. Mark Penn
2. Mark Penn
3. Mark Penn


"Bottom line: I just don't think she was hungry enough for it in the beginning. It wasn't really until the ten-in-a-row loss that she started doing stuff like Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart. In the beginning, it was hard to get her to do those things. Early in the campaign, she spent much more time in the Senate than the campaign would have liked. It took the threat of a real loss to get her hungry enough for it. But time was lost. If you ask the Iowa folks, I'm sure they would tell you she wasn't there enough."

"Clearly [Obama] was a phenomenon. He was tapping something really different than anyone had ever seen before. ... Months and months before Iowa, he was getting record crowds. I just think they should have really gone after him back in the summer and in the fall. I know it would have been a difficult decision to make back then. She's the leader of the party, the standard bearer, the big dog. Everyone thinks she's gonna win and walk away with it. Why go picking on Barack Obama? But that's just something the campaign should have done sooner."

"We didn't lay a serious glove on him until the fall. We tried to a little bit, but we weren't successful. We did silly stuff, like talk about David Geffen. It wasn't the substantive contrast we needed to make."

"Devastating vulnerabilities such as Obama's associations with Wright and Ayers were not unearthed by the campaign's vaunted research team in time to be fully taken advantage of--despite being readily available in the public domain."

"Running as an incumbent, as the inevitable candidate, was probably our biggest mistake, particularly in a time when the country is really hungry for change."

"There was not any plan in place from beginning to end on how to win the nomination. It was, 'Win Iowa.' There was not the experience level, and, frankly, the management ability, to create a whole plan to get to the magical delegate number. That to me is the number one thing. It's starting from that point that every subsequent decision resulted. The decision to spend x amount in Iowa versus be prepared for February 5 and beyond. Or how much money to spend in South Carolina--where it was highly unlikely we were going to win--versus the decision not to fund certain other states. ... It was not as simple as, 'Oh, that's a caucus state, we're not going to play there.' That suggests a more serious thought process. It suggests a meeting where we went through all that."

"Harold Ickes's encyclopedic understanding of the proportional delegate system was never operationalized into a field plan. The campaign inexplicably wrote off many states entirely, allowing Obama to create the lead of 100+ delegates that he has today. Most notably, we claimed the race would be over by February 5, but didn't devote any resources to the smaller states that day and in the weeks that followed, allowing Obama to easily run up margins and delegate counts on the cheap--the delegate margin he will win by."


"Hillary assembled a team thin on presidential campaign experience that confused discipline with insularity; they didn't know what they didn't know and were too arrogant to ask at a time early enough in the process when it could have made a difference, effectively shutting out even some long-time Hillaryland loyalists. Her innermost circle of [Patti Solis] Doyle, [Mark] Penn, [Mandy] Grunwald, [Neera] Tanden and [Howard] Wolfson formed a Board of Directors with no single Chairman or CEO; nobody was truly in charge, nobody held truly accountable."

"[Original campaign manager] Patti and [her deputy] Mike [Henry] sat up there in their offices and no one knew what they did all day. Patti's a nice person who was put in a job way over head. She was out of her element. Mike Henry was hired because he was the flavor of day, the catch everyone wanted. I'm sure he was really great, but presidential politics require a unique skill set and knowledge."

"[Policy Director] Tanden and [Communications Director] Wolfson, the HQ's most senior department heads, had no real presidential campaign experience, and no primary experience whatsoever. Notoriously bad managers, they filled key posts with newcomers loyal to them but unknown to and unfamiliar with the candidate, her style, her history, her preferences."

Mark Penn

"Probably our second biggest mistake was much more operational: Making our chief strategist our one and only pollster. It is impossible to disagree and have a counter view on message when the person creating the message is also the person testing the message."

"She never embraced the mantle from the beginning of being a different kind of candidate. Why did the campaign not do that? Because Mark Penn wanted to do it a different way. Read his book. He thought that you have a list of policy prescriptions. Voters are into that, and that's how you win. This came at the expense of--and it's a decision he really pushed for--saying to folks, 'Yes, she's a pretty inspiring figure herself.' ... There's no reason why she's not a change agent also. But once the CW is set, it just doesn't change."

"There were so many consultants, instead of full-time staff who would have spent their entire time focusing on this. . . . There were too many people that had too much else going on on the side."

"[Bill's] behavior that started off in Iowa, carried on in New Hampshire, and culminated in South Carolina really was the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he just kind of imploded. I think, if I had to look back on it, it became more about him than about her. It really was destructive overall."


"There were more themes in this campaign than anything I've ever seen."

"Our message in fact was working very well through September. What we failed to do is pivot when we needed to. We stuck on the same thing. ... We didn't say, 'OK, everybody gets that she can do this job.' We never pivoted to what kind of change she could bring. We repackaged the old message and sent it back out. Instead of 'Ready on Day One,' we changed to 'Solutions.' It was a very IBM approach."

"Keeping the same team in place [after New Hampshire] meant that pre-Iowa planning and strategic errors continued nearly unabated, were not corrected. ... Too much damage had been done by the time Maggie Williams took the helm."

"There were a number of people who advised the Clinton campaign back in the spring of '07 that this could easily become a longer battle--a war of attrition. She needed to build a broad base of supporters beyond the virtually limitless number of Clinton friends and supporters who they counted on to not only max out, but to use their not inconsiderable Rolodexes to help her. That would have been fine if this thing had ended Super Tuesday. It didn't, and she ran out of money."

"There was financial mismanagement bordering on fraud. A candidate who raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the years had to pump in millions more of her own money to stave off bankruptcy."

"If you have no cash because you totally mismanaged the budget, you have no money to go up on TV; you're getting crushed on TV and in direct mail because Obama has so much more money--that is a huge problem. Who was looking at the money? The financial situation was a disaster. That's the reason [Howard] Paster had to come in and clean shit up."


"If you look at this campaign as a 15- or 16-month gambit, the public turning point was the Philadelphia debate. Her non-answer on the driver's license issue. Again, it spoke to the character issue: The sense that she will say anything and do anything to get elected. It drove the Obama narrative of her home."

"The Senator is as loyal as she is smart. And I think that removing Patti is where those two things came into conflict. She knew the right thing to do. At same time, she was very loyal to Patti, who had been very loyal to her."


"We placed a huge financial bet on Iowa and raised its importance by sending senior staff there. And because we didn't plan for a national campaign, we couldn't point to an operation that could withstand an Iowa blow the way Obama could after New Hampshire."

"It was obvious talking to people on the ground there that they simply did not get the Iowa caucus from a field perspective. That's where the thing was lost. They didn't have a good idea of the horse-trading that makes caucuses work for you."

"Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald dismissed the possibility of youth turning out heavily in Iowa for Obama, saying on the record after the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, 'They don't look like caucus-goers.'"

"Penn was preoccupied with the national polls. We were up in the national polls, but Iowa was always a challenging thing for us. Early, early on, our internals showed us a significant number of points behind. ... In Iowa, Penn consistently would show polls that were of the eight-way. That was basically meaningless because it wasn't going to be an eight-way race. The candidates that were the second-tier candidates were not going to reach the threshold [of 15%]. The real race was the three-way. But he always focused on the eight-way when we'd start going over the numbers in Iowa. It was frustrating to the state staff and other people as well. It just showed a lack of understanding and a disconnect."


"We ran a press operation that lost all credibility with the press through endless and pointless memos like, 'Where's the Bounce?' and polling memos that cherry-picked only positive polls when we were up and ignored polling when we were down."


"Her people spent all of 2008 making lists blaming each other (but never themselves) rather than lists of solutions."

Actually, I can tell you "what went wrong" with Hillary's campaign in one word - IRAQ.

She supported (and supported and supported) Bush, Cheney & Co. and their sickening war loooong after the vast majority of people in her own party had turned against it. I remember the absolute fury my liberal friends felt towards Clinton because of the war, and I wondered at the time how she was going to win in the primaries when die-hard Democrats were lumping her in the Axis of Evil with Bush and Cheney.

Important groups like MoveOn and CodePink weren't going to support her. Most of the increasingly powerful blogosphere, like DailyKos and Huffington Post, hated her. The grassroots of the Democratic Party, who had organized themselves protesting the war, abandoned her. (One of the reasons the Clintons had such a hard time at the field level and in caucuses.)

As David Halberstam discusses in The Best and the Brightest, the classic Democratic presidential campaign strategy is to run to the Left in the primaries and move to the Center in the general election.

But Hillary couldn't run to the Left, because she betrayed them.

So she ran to the Right - giving us race baiting and reactionaries in a completely Republican-style campaign.

"I have a lifetime of experience I will bring to the White House," Hillary claimed. "I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience he will bring to the White House. . . .

And Senator Obama has a speech he made in 2002."

Yeah, well . . . with all due respect, Mrs. Clinton, if you had made a similar speech in 2002, you'd be the nominee right now.

If you had done what was right, if you had done what was just, if you had stood up against a war that the majority of the people in the world and in your own party tried to stop, we'd have our first woman president of the United States in 2008.

And maybe we would've prevented that catastrophic invasion.


crystal said...

This was actually too depressing for me to read, but I did like the Monty Python part :)

I think I responded correctly to the facebook thing. I'm only really there in name alone - can't figure out how to do anything there.

Jeff said...

Are you feeling confident enough about Obama in Oregon to say that this is over? Especially when he gets creamed in Kentucky like he did in West Virginia?

Hillary assembled a team thin on presidential campaign experience that confused discipline with insularity; they didn't know what they didn't know and were too arrogant to ask at a time early enough in the process when it could have made a difference

Well, that's a pattern with her. It reads very much like the same reason why her health care initiative went down in flames, causing the Democrats to lose control of Congress in 1994, not to mention the heavy-handed manner in which she addressed ever matter (legitimate ot illegitimate) that came at her, from the travel office brouhaha to the missing billing records.

I also find it odd that the general response on this sinking ship is to throw either Patti Solis Doyle or Mark Penn under the bus. There's plenty of blame to go around, but is her husband going to come under any scrutiny from this pack, or is his name still sacrosanct?

Jeff said...

BTW, great riff on the Python piece.

cowboyangel said...


It is hard to figure out how to do things on Facebook sometimes. In all honesty, I pretty much only use it to play Scrabulous. Liam's a little more into the overall Facebook experience - he could probably explain things to you better.

cowboyangel said...

Jeff, I said I wouldn't say it's over until Obama got 2025 delegates. Anything can happen.

To be honest, I was surprised that so many Hillary staffers would start analyzing their campaign at this point, which seems to me a real admission of defeat on their part.

Even getting crushed in Kentucky, Obama will clinch the majority of pledged delegates after Tuesday. He's taken the lead in Super delegates - and there seems to be a clear trend towards him. I mean, he got utterly demolished in W. Virginia and still wound up with something like 10 super delegates to Hillary's 1 this week. On the popular vote, she could win if you include Florida and Michigan, but I think the only people who are including those states in a popular vote total are Clinton supporters.

I think Obama would have to make a major gaffe for her to have any chance at this point. A REALLY major gaffe. He ultimately handled the Wright thing pretty well (not including the fact that he should've separated himself from the guy a long time ago.)

Great point about the pattern of confusion, insularity and arrogance showing up in the Health Care initiative. I never thought her disaster with that got enough attention in this election. She kept talking about all of her experience - but that was the most public part of it for a long time, and it was total mess.

The arrogance. I remember reading a statement by one of the Senators who worked with her on the health care initiative, a pretty well known one - can't think of his name now. After the experience, he said Hillary Clinton was the most self-righteous person he had ever dealt with in his life. If you're running a bad campaign, it's going to be hard to listen to others and make adjustments if you think you're right about everything.

They mention Bill in one the Problems with Personnel part. But, sure, if you're a Hillary staffer, it's easier to throw Mark Penn under the bus, who's not popular in political circles, rather than a two-term president who happens to be married to your boss. The fact that at least one person said something means a lot more probably felt that way.

Liam said...

The Monty Python bit was pure genius.

I think that a scandal on the level of Eliot Spizter or worse is the only thing that would sink Obama now. I also think you're right about Iraq -- and the fact that none of those people see that is rather indicative about how out of touch they are. I wonder how much better Edwards might have done if he had voted against the war.

"Devastating vulnerabilities such as Obama's associations with Wright and Ayers were not unearthed by the campaign's vaunted research team in time to be fully taken advantage of--despite being readily available in the public domain."

Yeah, that's very typical of the Rovian way they approached the election, which really turned people off.

They just don't get it and I'm glad it's over (it really is).

cowboyangel said...


I don't think Iraq hurt Edwards very much, because he turned against it early on. Hillary went on for years. He may have lost a few voters to Obama, but I never sensed that the war was hurting a lot. The blogoshpere, for example, really liked him. He ran a very Left campaign. Maybe that's another reason Hillary couldn't go left - Edwards occupied the territory and got all that support. His 2 big problems seemed to be a message people didn't care about and a lack of authenticity. What do you think?

I simply don't know how the Clinton people couldn't "unearth" Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright "in time." At the very beginning, when Obama announced his candidacy a year and a half ago, he dis-invited Wright to speak, and there were several articles noting potential controversy. It was obvious the Obnama people were concerned about Wright even then. If a dolt like me could figure that out, you'd think the Clinton campaign would've been all over that the next day. Rovian or not - Wright was an incredibly easy target. Yet the Clinton folks didn't seem to pay any attention. They were too busy taking tea on the terrace or something.

BLester said...

Excellent analysis, but the missing part conce4rning Mark Penn is the fact -- and I say fact because my boyfriend works for PSB and Burson-Marsteller and he knows-- Penn NEVER did half the polls he billed the campaign for. This pig is so sure he is always right, he cancelled at least 20 polls before they went into the field -- and told his people, including my boyfriend, to produce power points with invented data that agreed with his conclusions. But he billed for them anyway.
The dumbest thing this campaign will do now is pay Mark Penn, Burson-Marsteller or WPP Group another dime.
But this cmpaign has pretty much done everything dumb, so Mark Penn walks away with millions.

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Yeah, you're not the first person to complain about Mark Penn making millions of dollars on this campaign, despite having done - by general consensus - a terrible job.

But you know the really sad part? He'll get hired again.

Which is one reason you or your boyfriend should think about contacting someone like TPM Muckracker about the invented poll data. I'm sure they'd be interested. And I would personally love to see it turn into a more widely covered investigative report. It would be a fitting send-off for Penn.

Liam said...

Yeah, I don't get the idea from blogs that Iraq hurt Edwards, but then I think about people like my brother who was pro-Obama from the beginning. He said, "I'm a one-issue voter. I won't vote for anybody who had anything to do with this Goddamn war." I like Edwards and I believe he is sincere, but at the same time I do recognize that you have to believe he really changed his views from when he was in the Senate, and not just on the war.

As far as the Wright thing goes, yeah, they may be incompetent Roves, but even trying to do it well was a problem. Attacks like that may have worked to sway a number of independents, and the GOP and her "Hillary-is-a-fighter" base may have loved it, but after eight years of Bush-Rove, I think it turned off a lot of people, hence her falling approval rating. I don't think they stopped for a moment to think how ugly her tactics seemed to a lot of people.

cowboyangel said...


How do you think the Clinton campaign acted Rovian in terms of Jeremiah Wright?

You can't blame Hillary for the things Wright said and did. Are you referring to her saying that she wouldn't have stayed in a church like that?

Marc Ambinder offered some response a couple of days ago to Cottle's article. One the passage you're referring to, he says, "This relates to the larger problem of not having taken Obama seriously and then, when the time came to take him seriously, being trapped in the wilderness of racial politics."

I would agree with that. If Clinton had brought Wright up back in 2007, she could've hit Obama a lot harder.

To be honest, I don't think the Clintons actually did very much in the end with Wright. On one level, they didn't really have to - Wright was pretty damning stuff all on his own. And the media, G-d bless their corrupt little souls, did most of the work for her by obsessing on him. Though Wright even helped in that regard with his bizarre speech at the National Press Club.

You and I have different viewpoints on Wright, I think. To me, politically speaking, he was fair game. Any politician running against Obama would've made an issue out of Wright. Even Obama dis-invited him from his announcement speech in the beginning. You wouldn't do that unless you knew there was a problem.

Will be interesting to see what McCain does with Wright now. He got Hagee to make an apology to the Catholics, which Bill Donohoe accepted. (So easy to placate Donohoe when it's not a Chocolate Jesus sculpture but just calling the Church the Whore of Babylon!) To me, that signals that they will go after Wright and are trying to cover their backs.

Probably doing about what Hillary did, asking why Obama would stay in that church for so long - why he would have a crazy, angry black man (as they will portray Wright) as his spiritual mentor for 20 years. I don't think Barack ever came up with a good answer to that question. And distancing himself from Wright now doesn't resolve that issue. It's a question of judgment, which Obama keeps saying he has a lot of, even if he doesn't have experience. So if he doesn't have experience and he doesn't have good judgment, what's left?

Liam said...

I don't think the Clinton campaign did much with Wright because, as you noted, they didn't have to. I disagree with the idea of how much he is "fair political game." Ayers much more so. Obama has been able to run a great campaign without many guilt by association attacks, and with the Clintons there were more than enough possibilities. Obviously it would be naive to assume that people wouldn't go after him, but I dislike the approach that it's a virtue in politics to take cheap shots just because you can.

The Wright thing will come up in the general election, but unless Obama handles it really badly, I think it's run its course and I don't think it will damage Obama much more -- any lost votes because of it are already lost.

Bill Donohue is a hypocritical right-wing hack and d*******g.

Liam said...

PS: I don't remember Donohue "forgiving" Edwards after he fired his bloggers. D*******g.