Reviewed by Anne Henderson
Shattered – Inside Hillary’s Doomed Campaign By Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes,
- Publisher: Crown New York 2017
- ISBN: 9978 0 553 44708 8
- Ebook ISBN: 978 0 553 44709 5
- RRP $ 50 (hb)
A couple of chapters into Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes’ Shattered – Inside Hillary’s Doomed Campaign, I tried to recall who it was that was Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate in the 2016 US presidential election. The name escaped me and I had to check it out. It was Virginia senator Tim Kaine.
Unsurprisingly, Kaine has a small role in Shattered. Apart from the chapter “Hillary Just Can’t Make Up Her Mind”, covering how she chose Kaine as her running mate, Kaine gets just three one-line mentions thereafter. If you blinked, you’d miss him as one of the key players in front of voters. Shattered is the way the Clinton campaign played out – all Hillary from start to finish.
Shattered is the inside story of the second run for US president by Hillary Clinton in 2015-16. For a year and a half, New York Times best selling author Jonathan Allen and White House correspondent for The Hill newspaper Amie Parnes followed the trail of the Clinton team, or “Clintonworld” as they call it, talking to advisers and managers, getting the grist and mechanics, the angst and the rivalries, of the Clinton operation. Not new to Clintonworld, Allen and Parnes had done it all before for their best seller HRC on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination against presidential aspirant Barack Obama.
There is no doubt these two high flying journalists were expecting their finished product would be the first-off-the-blocks book on how Hillary Clinton shattered the highest of glass ceilings and became the USA’s first female president. It was not to be. And, as you read the saga of in-fighting and rivalries, miscalculations and technical gambles, you wonder if some of the interpretations in this final draft would have been quite different had the result been Clinton not Trump.
Not too long after Hillary entered the presidential campaign, having received the Democratic nomination, Allen and Parnes report polling data that had the Clinton team quite worried she would not make it – yet, that was not how it appeared in public. Not even from the correspondents and media reporting the race; Allen and Parnes write, “two days before the election … it was hard to find serious election analysts who were predicting a Trump victory”.
But, weeks out from election day, Clinton speechwriter Jake Sullivan “had the strongest visceral sense of doom. Suddenly, he believed, there was a reasonable chance Hillary would lose the election”. As Allen and Parnes note, “when the RNC [Republican National Campaign] conducted a briefing for reporters in early November, figures for Pennsylvania and Michigan were withheld because the upticks there were so rosy that party officials didn’t believe their own data.”
This realistic comment, after the event, is significant. How did the pundits get it so wrong if there was sufficient data within the respective camps to suggest Donald J Trump might win? In the world of reportage outside, through the published polls and commentary, there was only one winner – it was Hillary Clinton. So assured did the Clinton side appear, no doubt Allen and Parnes were ready for the book of the year.
But then, disaster. Trump became the winner. And the story had to take on a whole new perspective. Allen and Parnes needed to trace through their hours of conversations, their reams of interviews, data, stories and gossip to re-write whole sections of their best selling draft. They had to turn victory into defeat – a somewhat different saga throughout. So Clintonworld, as portrayed, is not the happy, connected, collaborative team it appeared on the surface, the face it presented to its followers in the media and the party.
From day one, campaign Hillary 2016 was rent with division and the clash of strategies. Campaign manager Robby Mook and campaign chairman John Podesta were constantly at odds. Mook’s analytics (reliance on the measurement of data and statistics) dominated, holding HRC back from a campaign to seduce uncertain voters in favour of using her more to raise money and bring out the vote of those who favoured her.
Bill Clinton’s belief they needed to be doing more of the old style campaigning across swing states and Democrat strongholds was drowned out by the Brooklyn HQ, where “amid the faux-Silicon Valley hammock, beanbag chairs and air-hockey table, data technicians concentrated on how analytics could maximise delegate numbers”.
Meanwhile, the need for big spending, while Trump gathered free media time with his outrageous personality, meant campaign manager Mook was seen as tight with expenditure which “made many Clintonites nervous” as early as the first day of the primary campaign. Even so, by the end of August 2016, Hillary had 800 paid staff while Trump was managing with 130.
For all the headline stories about emails and scandal around the Clintons, there are two prevailing threads throughout the story of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to become US president that should have predicted failure from the start.
First was the evaluation both from Clinton advisers and even Hillary herself that she did not grasp the underlying sentiments of the electorate and did not get the ordinary person’s resentment of wealthy Americans after the crash of 2008. Her failure to reach out to white voters “never changed”. She asked again and again how she could get answers to this phenomenon – instead of knowing why herself. She could not figure out why average Americans were so angry or how she might bring the country together instead of being seen as the candidate of the status quo.
Then there was the distance between Hilary Clinton and those around her – from voters she did not connect with to her own team. Even Barrack Obama struggled to get past Hillary’s shell, the authors note. A lifetime of dealing in murky political scandals didn’t help and, indeed, Hillary had over time developed a practice of dividing her team into camps, and removing herself from direct contact with staff. Devoted friend and personal assistant Huma Abedin played gatekeeper.
As Allen and Parnes put it, “If Hillary was the candidate often isolated from her formal campaign – and she was – Abedin was the croc-filled moat encircling her.” The “map” of Clintonworld they describe as “like a traffic jam on a Venn diagram”. It was impossible to determine who had Hillary’s ear – “she had set up rival power centres everywhere”.
Hillary Clinton spoke of “I” and “you” and never “we”. In private, her frustration led her to classify some of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” – a term, as Trump edged her in polls, she let fly in public saying, “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call a basket of deplorables”. These she labelled as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”. In doing so, Clinton showed she did not have “the feel, the empathy” and confirmed the belief, in many she should have been appealing to, that she was elitist.
All the while, Donald Trump was seducing those very same white working class Americans in rust bucket states – as Bernie Sanders had done before him in the Democrat primaries. Trump might be hugely wealthy but, with his tough talking Queens bravado, he came across as no elitist.
Overarching all the practicalities, tactics and limitations of Hillary’s 2016 campaign strategy there were the emails. The Hillary Clinton campaign for 2016 carried baggage – both from her life as the former first lady who covered for her philandering husband and also from her mastery of political double speak that clinched her as one of the Washington set. Add this to the lost and classified emails sent to Hillary’s personal email server while she was Secretary of State and the stage was set for a trail of reports from Washington that prevented HRC from throwing off perceptions that she could not be trusted.
From the time of the first serious questioning over her use of a private email server and the disappearance of classified emails, Hillary chose obfuscation and denial before being shown to have given false statements and being forced, gradually, to confess and apologise. The tactics revived the old image of the Clintons over years, from the Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky scandals on. Then, as the email saga resurfaced intermittently over the campaign through the Anthony Weiner investigation and the John Podesta email leak, the connection was reinforced in many voters’ minds. Back at Clinton base, advisers fell over one another trying to put out the fires.
At the heart of it all, there were only the Clintons and Hillary in particular to blame. Shattered concludes that, “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.”
The email saga dogged Hillary Clinton at every turn. Allen and Parnes write that while Obama kept up a loyal front in public, in private he “couldn’t understand what possessed Hillary to set up the private e-mail server, and her handling of the scandal – obfuscate, deny and evade – amounted to political malpractice”.
There were highs. Commentators judged Hilary to have won all three presidential debates. During the primaries, she shrugged off low moments in a Late Night Live appearance as a waitress where she played a warm character with a real sense of humour able to laugh at herself. She performed well before Republican interrogators on Capitol Hill over her lost emails. She had powerful and famous friends and a huge and popular cheer squad right till the end. She won more votes than Trump, but in the wrong places.
In Clintonworld, HRC blamed the people she had hired – she had not set foot in Wisconsin at any stage of the campaign. She ended up seeing those she relied on as having put their own interests above getting her elected. She forgot that, over years, she herself had become a disciple of Obama’s data-driven campaign style. How could she simply blame Mook whose only answer when they lost was to say the analytics were wrong. But others saw Clintonworld as at the heart of the loss – ”Clinton Inc. was great for her for years and she had all the institutional benefits. But it was an albatross around her neck.”
The most telling outcome of Hillary Clinton’s loss was the continuing ability of Clintonworld to spin the blame elsewhere – “Hillary declined to take responsibility for her own loss … Instead Hillary kept pointing her finger at FBI director James Comey and Russia.” As one insider put it, “She wants to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way.”
Within 24 hours of her concession speech, the Clinton communications team were feeding their version of the result to the media – “… they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centrepiece of the argument.”
Perhaps, as the Democrats continue the fight to condemn Donald Trump for links with Russia in the election campaign, Allen and Parnes could start working on a sequel.
Anne Henderson is Deputy Director of The Sydney Institute and author of Menzies at War, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Prime Minister’s Award for Australian History