The “campaign diary” is a mainstay of American electoral politics. From the classic Hunter S. Thompson book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” to the infamous “Game Change”, they serve an important role in the documentation of American political history. Of course, with the Absolute Nightmare Circus from the Seventh Circle of Hades that was the 2016 Presidential election, it was no surprise that there would be an hefty hoard of books covering the events of the most bizarre Presidential election in recent history. Everybody from New York Times columnists to living goblin Roger Stone have written their accounts of just what the hell happened during those fatal months leading up to November. Even Clinton herself is due to release a memoir this year that will surely include some kind of scrubbed and curated take on the election she ended up choking in.
However, a book has come out profiling the inner workings of the Clinton campaign that reveal some damning insights that perfectly encapsulate why Clinton lost the campaign and how the current Democratic leadership, comprised mostly of Clinton staffers, is unprepared to present a strong opposition to the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular. Of course, given that the book relies heavily on anonymous sources, a grain of salt should be applied to some of the claims presented. At the same time, if even half of the claims in this book are true, it’s shocking that Clinton was even able to win the Democratic nomination in the first place.
Shattered paints the picture of a Hillary Clinton obsessed with loyalty and completely incapable of connecting with the average voter, yet at the same time lazy and unwilling to take the finer points of her campaign into her own hands, much more willing to leave those tasks to her campaign staff. The book alleges that, after her 2008 loss to Obama, she assigned two of her aides to assign “loyalty scores” to members of Congress, with one being the truest of the true and a seven being an absolute enemy of the Clinton. This list would later be used to exact revenge against some of those sevens, having her husband campaign against them in party primaries and kicking them out of office. Somewhere between Nixon and Stalin there. Then in the runup to the campaign, staff allegedly told her not to give paid speeches to the banks, but told them that “no one would care” if she did.
The book states that Clinton had campaign staff come up for her justification as to why she was running in the first place. Obviously this is a rather good question, as she had run for President once before and lost to Barack Obama some eight years prior and had a relatively scandal ridden term as the Secretary of State. Yet the fact that she herself didn’t have a reason why she was running and decided to outsource her idea for running for the highest office in the land is the gold standard as an analogy for neoliberalism in the 21st century: outsourcing political ideology. One of the anonymous sources in the book alleges that Clinton herself didn’t actually have the desire to run, but she felt that no one else would be able to win against the Republicans. How strange is that to read in the age of President Biff? According to the book, there were campaign staffers that were thinking of testing the campaign slogan “Because it’s her turn”. I don’t know for sure if it would be more or less inane than “I’m with Her”, but it definitely would have been more honest.
Not that her campaign team was in any shape to substantially help the candidate actually compete. The book claims that the higher ups in the Clinton campaign were divided into different camps based around leaders like Robby Mook and John Podesta that constantly butted heads with each other with faction leaders jockeying for positions of influence with Clinton. How they expected to win with a campaign staff designed around “Lord of the Flies” is beyond me, but I’m not a professional lanyard Beltway insider so perhaps I’m missing some crucial insight. Even then, if any of the central staff outside the higher ups had any concerns that they wanted to bring to Clinton in order to help the campaign, she was nowhere to be found; the book states that the vast majority of the staff had no contact with the candidate outside of their initial interview when signing on with the campaign. When they weren’t fighting each other, they were being incompetent; communications director Jennifer Palmieri accidentally scheduled Clinton’s first interview about the email scandal with the wrong journalist after being given the name “Brianna” without any qualifiers by Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, resulting in a humiliating interview on CNN. Robby Mook comes across particularly bad in the course of the book; greedy, always considerate of his power within the campaign and the Democratic party in general, relying on data models that were based around multiple assumptions instead of sticking with the Obama-style retail politics that helped him win two terms of office.
At the very core of the book, although more than likely unintentionally, is a harsh critique of the neoliberal ideology that sits squarely within the heart of the Democratic party like a hunk of cholesterol sitting in a valve. Clinton wanted to reduce costs after the spending extravaganza that was her 2008 run, which resulted in the reduction of campaign offices and staff (one of the places that had reduced staff and funding was Michigan, go figure), much like the feckless gutting of social services and community aid programs under her husband’s administration. There’s the account of Mook refusing to hire back PAC workers that Clinton herself promised would become full campaign staff after they created a huge state party network to consolidate support, capping it all off with the alleged statement “You don’t keep a condom on after you’re done”. Such actions mirror the horrid treatment of union workers under Bill Clinton’s presidency, treating a constituency that had reliably voted for the Democratic party for decades even after the absolute massacre they had faced during the Reagan and Bush Sr. years.
In the end it was the artificiality of Clinton’s campaign that played a major role in her loss. As repellent and absolutely disgusting as Trump is as a human being, no one can claim that his message was finely crafted by a staff of politicos. That kind of authenticity resonated with voters, as horrifying as it was. If the Democrats want to have any kind of success in the coming years, this is what they should do; sit down for a few days, and dedicate some time to reading this book. Very carefully. Honestly. Afterwards, purge anyone involved in this total mess of a campaign, to remove the stench of failure and incompetence from their ranks.