If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, what would the authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign have done with the trove of data, gossip, leaks, interviews, and speculations they had amassed during the 2016 presidential campaign? Would they have called it: Amazing: How a Campaign Riven by “Too Many Cooks,” Second-guessing, Conflicting Strategies, and Personal Animosities Elected Hillary Clinton President of the United States?
That could have happened. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes began their reporting in 2014 sharing the assumption that Clinton was the likely winner. If they had thoughts of using “shattered” in their title, it referred to the proverbial glass ceiling, not shock and despair over a Clinton loss. At what point then, were they persuaded otherwise and begin to frame the campaign a disaster and Clinton the loser? Or, were they as surprised as the whole country by Donald Trump’s victory, and decided on November 9 to describe the campaign as “doomed”?
As Clinton moved from her 2015 “listening tour” to Election Day 2016, the authors hung their story on three themes: (1) the candidate lacked political charisma; (2) the campaign was ruled by “science rather than the art of politics”; (3) a string of unexpected events reminded voters that they didn’t trust Hillary Clinton.
(1) Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t quell her presidential ambitions. She played the good sport, campaigning for Obama, joining his administration as secretary of state, and looking ahead to following him in office. The rallying cry of the super PAC, Ready for Hillary,” pinned down donors and edged out the plans of serious competitors, though Bernie Sanders’s entry in April 2015 undid that presumption. Analyzing the errors of 2008, her own and others, Clinton devised rules that governed the 2016 campaign—for example, don’t fire anyone. In 2008, unhappy former staffers leaked to the media, a mortal sin and personal affront for Clinton. In this campaign, doubtful performers were kept on but elbowed aside while new staff, advisers, and consultants were added. Layering over problems of strategy and staffing created multiple power circles, with concomitant confusion and resentments piling up among staff while major donors, long-time friends, and Bill Clinton rained a stream of criticisms on the worker bees. Hillary’s wonkishness overwhelmed what little political sensibility she possessed, leaving to a loose group of friends and speechwriters the task of providing the themes, words, and appeals she offered the voters. In any case, the no-leaking rule was violated. The authors promised anonymity and assured willing talkers that nothing would be published before the election.
(2) Even though campaigns are transient enterprises, like pop-up stores, their many moving parts require constant attention and adjustment: fund-raising, polling, staffing, scheduling, speech-writing, TV ads, robo calls, and get-out-the-vote efforts. The effort must be up and running in fifty states for the twelve to fifteen months preceding the primaries and in full force in the two to three months between the convention and election day. Initially without serious competition, Clinton expected to sail through the primaries, a trajectory derailed in March by Sanders’s surge in the Michigan primary. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook’s strategy for the primaries had been directed at clinching an overwhelming delegate count. That meant allocating money and staff even to states unlikely to support a Democrat in the general election.