Having learned apparently nothing from her top-heavy, expensive, and ultimately doomed 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton is set for a shakeup just like the one following her first unexpectedly bad Iowa result eight years ago:
“The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that,” said one Democratic official who speaks regularly to both. “The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary – but also for the general election too… There’s no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now.”
Ultimately, the disorganization is the candidate’s own decision-making, which lurches from hands-off delegation in times of success to hands-around-the-throat micromanagement when things go south.
At the heart of problem this time, staffers, donors and Clinton-allied operatives say, was the Clinton’s decision not to appoint a single empowered chief strategist – a role the forceful but controversial Mark Penn played in 2008 – and disperse decision-making responsibility to a sprawling team with fuzzy lines of authority.
“There’s nobody sitting in the middle of this empowered to create a message and implement it,” said one former Obama 2008 aide. “They are kind of rudderless… occasionally Hillary grabs the rudder, but until recently she was not that interested in [working on messaging]… Look, she going to be the nominee, but she’s not going to get any style points and if she isn’t careful she is going to be a wounded nominee. And they better worked this shit out fast because who ever the Republicans pick is going to be 29 times tougher than Bernie.”
That’s Glenn Thrush and Annie Karni reporting today for Politico. Let us set the Wayback Machine to February 2008, and Joshua Green’s writeup for The Atlantic:
For the many people in and around Washington who obsess over the latest machinations in Hillaryland, the firing of Solis Doyle—and she was fired, several insiders confirm—is a big deal, but for reasons somewhat different from what the media coverage has suggested. Her title of “campaign manager” implies a loftier role than the one she actually played. She is the furthest thing from a Rove-like strategic genius (Mark Penn inhabits that role for Hillary), so her leaving doesn’t signify an impending change of strategy, as some reports seem to assume. Rather, Solis Doyle, who began as Clinton’s personal scheduler in 1991 (and who, as it happens, coined the term “Hillaryland”) was Clinton’s alter ego and was installed in the job specifically for that reason. Her performance in Clinton’s past races and especially in this one reflects all the good and the bad that the alter-ego designation carries. I’ve always felt that the most revealing thing about Solis Doyle is her oft-repeated line: “When I’m speaking, Hillary is speaking.” It is revealing both because it is true and because it conveys—and even flaunts—an arrogance that I think is the key to understanding all that has gone wrong for the Clinton campaign.
Such arrogance led directly to the idea that Clinton could simply project an air of inevitability and be assured her party’s nomination. If she wins—-as she very well might—-it will be in spite of her original approach.
This next line is sinfully delicious:
No one could have predicted Barack Obama’s sudden rise, though the Clinton campaign was slower to recognize it than most.
Replace “Barack Obama” with “Bernie Sanders,” and Joshua Green could almost refile his old piece as brand-new reporting.
One thing that is new is Sanders approaching Clinton’s numbers in national polls, where as recently as December she enjoyed massive double-digit leads. Last week it was Quinnipiac showing a statistical tie, and today it’s Reuters/Ipsos:
Clinton leads Sanders 48 percent to 45 percent among Democratic voters, according to the poll of 512 Americans, conducted Feb. 2-5 following the Iowa caucus. The poll has a credibility interval of 5 percentage points.
Democrats had been supporting Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin at the beginning of the year. Sanders has narrowed that lead considerably over the past several weeks.
Clinton beat Sanders narrowly in the Iowa caucuses, the nation’s first nomination contest ahead of the November election, but is expected to lose to him in New Hampshire
The first clause in that last sentence ought to be taken with a grain of salt, since it appears increasingly likely that Clinton won Iowa through chicanery, rather than through honest accounting of caucus-goers’ preferences. So it may be that Clinton learned at least one lesson from 2008, which is to win Iowa at any cost.
I’ll leave you with one final report, this one from Clinton’s firewall state:
With tens of millions in small donations pouring in over the Internet, Sanders is spending heavily to build a campaign organization in South Carolina. He is airing ads on black radio stations about his record of fighting racism, from his college years to his career in the Senate, and in favor of criminal justice reform.
His campaign is paying more than 100 black organizers $15 an hour — the national minimum wage he is advocating for — to go door to door. Half of his South Carolina team had previously worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
Younger voters are already flocking to Sanders. If he can put a real dent in Clinton’s black support, then he might just have a real shot at winning this thing — or at least of bringing Joe Biden and/or Michael Bloomberg into the race.