Hillary Clinton Is a Loser
“Loser” is perhaps President Trump’s favorite insult and, all things considered, the best alternative title for Shattered, a new book that takes readers “inside Hillary Clinton’s doomed campaign.” The work reveals the dysfunction of Hillary’s leadership team and how they adopted a fatal strategy of identity politics, but it fails to draw practically any comparison to her Republican rival on qualitative or quantitative measures.
The authors, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, are two journalists who covered the campaign. Surely they sold this book before the outcome was known, though the publisher may be hoping to get in on the market of still-confused Democrats. The bewildered would be better served taking a field trip to my home state of Tennessee, where Trump enthusiasm is in no short supply. But I assume this is the start of a series of failure biographies on the Atlanta Falcons, the inventor of the Segway, and the producers of John Carter.
Surely we can learn from losers, perhaps more so than from winners, but I do not recall any similar book that focuses so myopically on a losing presidential campaign to the near total exclusion of the winner. There are bitter memoirs, comical takes, entire biographies, and the rare historical retrospectives on say, Goldwater’s 1964 campaign or Reagan’s 1976 campaign. But Shattered occupies a genre by itself, as a somewhat neutral, serious, excessively isolated take on a forgettable candidacy: does anyone imagine that, decades from now, the Democrat Party will be built on the shining example of Hillary Clinton?
Shattered reveals no ideological foundation that the Democrats may build on. Instead, it plainly states, “Hillary didn’t have a vision to articulate. And no one else could give one to her. In fact, the more people she assigned to the task of setting the tone for her campaign, the more muddled her message became.” A study after the campaign confirmed the point: Hillary had devoted only 25 percent of her television advertising to issues, compared to the 40 percent or more that every other presidential campaign, including Trump’s, has dedicated since 2000. No wonder that Bill Clinton apparently feared Ted Cruz as a general election opponent more than Trump, seeing a “true believer with a vision that could be articulated [and who] could tap into the same anger that Trump was galvanizing on the political right and among fed-up independents.”
Instead of issues, Hillary’s pitch was pure identity politics, right down to her slogan, “I’m with her.” That turned out to be a fine strategy to win the Democrat nomination, but not the general. Anyone who has recently spent time on a college campus or is exposed to mainstream media outlets recognizes how social justice warriors have come to dominate the conversation on the left, but less clear is the fact that identity politics is structurally favored within Democrat primary rules: “It’s all very complicated, but it boils down to this: A candidate who does best in the most Democratic parts of a state can rack up a lot of delegates fast. In many states, the delegate-rich districts are majority-minority.” As a result, Hillary could pick up more delegates in a single majority African American Congressional district in Mississippi than Bernie did by winning the New Hampshire primary. You get real insight into Democrat coalition politics when Shattered tells how Maryland unions backed Chris Van Hollen in a U.S. Senate primary against African-American Donna Edwards and planned to intentionally exclude African-American members from their turnout efforts until Hillary, on the same ballot and desperate to show strength against Bernie, intervened.
The supposed inevitability of Hillary’s victory rested on this new Obama-activated “coalition of the ascendant” and a “blue wall” of states that had voted Democrat in six straight cycles, adding up to 242 of the 270 needed electoral votes. No one realized that these foundational pillars may have been at odds with each other. By beating back Bernie through a delegate-focused identity politics pitch, Hillary abandoned her working-class white base from 2008, and failed to see how her Rust Belt primary problems might translate into a general. Ultimately, one Ohio county Democrat chairman summed up the election by saying that she lost because voters thought she cared more about bathrooms than jobs.
But Hillary’s campaign was supposed to have inherited from Obama a fine-tuned, analytics-driven, vote-mobilizing machine. Here we run into another significant problem, not only of this book, but of political journalism, where humanities majors spin understandable narratives of campaign personalities bickering in he-said she-said minutiae that most voters never knew when they made their decision. I love gossip as much as the next politico, and there is some insight to be gleaned into human relations, but politics would be infinitely better off if we had business school case studies of campaigns that included hard data. Shattered can be read without gaining any knowledge of the comparative size of staff of Trump versus Hillary, the number of voter contacts, how voters are approached, fundraising differences, media market strategy, or really any of the quantifiable mechanics of a political operation that might inform why a campaign loses. Poll numbers are occasionally noted without reference to source, margin of error, or context. Although there is a debate in the Hillary campaign about the use of analytics versus polling, the authors barely explain the distinction.
Senior staff dysfunction is on display, probably to the extent that leakers tried to blame their rivals. The fate of Robby Mook is fascinating to follow: he begins as the campaign manager who pursues a cost-effective but controversial, ultimately successful primary strategy of focusing on the math of winning delegates over the poetry of campaign messaging. His reward was demotion to membership in a “Super Six” committee that governed the remainder of the campaign on cruise control to impending victory.
Those looking for the juicy gossip of Game Change will find mostly stilted dialogue and the occasional sassy anonymous comment. But there is the rare tidbit, the most fascinating category being Hillary’s paranoia. After the 2008 campaign, Hillary raided her campaign email server and spied on the emails of her senior staff to know what they had said and done. She also assigned staff to grade every member of Congress on a 1-7 scale based on their loyalty. After the 2016 campaign, she credited her loss to three acronyms: “the FBI, the KGB, and the KKK.”
Ironic blame-casting for someone who pledged we were “stronger together.” But then this is also the woman who accused her opponents of being part of a “basket of deplorables.” Never mind that the FBI was simply investigating her misdeeds, the KGB no longer exists, and the KKK is a laughably miniscule portion of the electorate. One strand of thought within Shattered, which is to be expected when staff comprise most of the sources, is that maybe the problem was not the personnel, nor the strategy, but the candidate herself. No one could tell Hillary—hey, maybe American voters just aren’t that into you.
Bill Clinton comes off much better as he struggles throughout the campaign between defending his presidential record and adapting to the newly “super-sensitive” liberal electorate. He is the one constantly questioning the data that drove the campaign to be so focused on “the coalition of the ascendant” to the exclusion of the Rust Belt.
Some may argue that the race was Hillary’s to lose, but this book feels woefully incomplete without further discussion of Donald Trump. In fact, more time is spent describing the elaborate ways in which Hillary spokesman Philippe Reines impersonated Trump during debate preparation than on Trump himself.
All the more because Hillary outspent Trump by a margin of more than two to one, Trump deserves credit for the victory that he achieved, including penetrating the supposedly rock-solid Blue Wall. True, no non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded a two-term president of the same party since Martin Van Buren. But Trump achieved something truly special and it barely makes a cameo in Shattered as the campaign staff share bewilderment on Election Night that rural areas like Florida’s Polk County would see Hillary outperform Obama by 3,000 votes while Trump outperformed Romney by 25,000. That’s a story that the book should have told.
Grant Starrett is a real estate executive who lives in Murfreesboro, TN. He ran for Congress in 2016. Follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GrantforTN/