On the morning of November 9th, I awoke to see “President Trump” as one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter. The shocking news, that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, flew in the face of what was supposed to be a predictable Hillary Clinton win; everyone in the press seemingly knew that she was supposed to be the next president. But she wasn’t. As I scrolled through Twitter that morning, I could hear the collective groans, laughter in disbelief, and tears pouring out from the blue states of the country; and simultaneously felt a fear that somehow this wasn’t supposed to happen.
I picked up Shattered: Inside the Doomed Campaign of Hillary Clinton in hopes of finding answers. As an outspoken Sanders supporter who donated and volunteered for Bernie’s campaign, I wanted to know what the relationship was between Bernie and Hillary following the Primary Election. Beyond that, I wanted some clarity as to what went wrong with Hillary’s campaign to lose to Trump- a candidate that somehow managed to stump longtime political pundits and pollsters to become President of the United States.
Authors Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen painted a complex portrait of Hillary Clinton worthy of a Greek tragedy; an incredibly strong political competitor with glaring human flaws that eventually lead to her own undoing. The inevitable fall of Clinton, a figure constantly under the glare of media scrutiny, was made more extreme by the seemingly endless assault of catastrophic and unpredictable events flung in her team’s path. Regardless of your political leanings, this book reads as a retelling of political disaster spun within a bureaucratic farce.
My only negative critique for Shattered is in regards to the political stats, which can get a little stale in retelling. The authors’ attention to detail when documenting human relationships is fascinating in the context of the failing campaign (Bill Clinton’s passionate tropes into political incorrectness stood out as hilarious and entertaining gems), but the same detail when directed at polling, demographics, and money spent was almost mind-numbing. Parents and Allen could have taken more time detailing individual player’s connections and less time talking about numbers, and I would have been happier. Still, the overall story reads well and I was entertained and informed by the how they retold significant events from within the campaign.
My opinions and observations are as follows. I encourage you to leave your own opinions and ideas as well, as that’s what makes America what it is…
The Clinton’s long and scandalous history both help and hurt them, and possibly capsized the Clinton campaign in 2016. The book calls attention directly to Hillary’s Goldman Sacs Paid Speeches, her Private Email Server, Benghazi, NAFTA, Bill Clinton’s 90’s Crime Bill, The Iraq War, the DNC Leaks, and later the Pedestal Emails via Wikileaks as some of the scandals most effecting her public character (there were more mentioned, but these seemed to hold the most weight). In a lot of ways, her crack team of skilled public operatives failed in either dismantling these narratives, explaining then in the context, or convincing Hillary to provide a genuine apology. While on the issue of the Private Email Server it took months of badgering Hillary to finally offer a half-apology during an interview, the majority of scandals were handled with denial, deflection, or projection; defensive stances that attempted to turn the blame onto others.
After reading Shattered, I’m convinced the core issue with Hillary’s campaign is they lacked a core message and relevant narrative you could deliver in five words or less. Obama had “Hope”. Trump has “Make America Great Again”. These simple statements were vague enough that they connect in some way with the layman, yet encapsulate that candidates’ holistic vision for the country. In Obama’s case his hope for a more prosperous future coincided with his passionate campaign; while Trump’s MAGA slogans spoke to a disaffected white working class that had seen their jobs and incomes dwindle.
Hillary had,”I’m with Her”, which on the surface played well to showcase her gender, but failed to reach out to the rest of the country or showcase more of her substantive issues on the economy, jobs, children’s rights, and foreign affairs. Later, “Stronger Together” was adopted as a way to encourage the Bernie Wing of the party to join her, as well as grab on to ideas of unifying the disenfranchised populism that fueled his rise, but it was too late and too forced. Hillary’s issues of trustworthiness and authenticity were too low, and changing the branding was already seen as hurting her (Michigan, which turned out to be a bellwether vote for her, only showed negative associations with Hillary’s team when they campaigned there leading into the General).
Her speech writing team consisted of two or three writers making edits after the speeches were assessed by ten different departments within the campaign. In contrast, Obama’s spirited speeches were written by one or two people with no committee oversight.
In short, her team was unable to tell the public what Hillary was fighting for in five words; and they also weren’t concerned with it.
Robbie Mook, Clinton’s Campaign manager obsessed with data analytics, actively approached the campaign with the idea of,”Not changing minds” because it was too expensive and a waste of funds. This lead to simply targeting Clinton faithfuls and primary targeting the “Black Vote”. Because of Hillary’s attempts to defeat Obama in 2012 and then graciously conceded to him and later working alongside him as Secretary of State, Mook and associates believed all they needed to do was ride a wave of support off Obama’s success and not look further to court new demographics. Clinton was the successor and rightful heir to Obama’s legacy- and this complex narrative didn’t need to be explained to Black Voters.
In doing so, they alienated and ignored working white voters, which were the base of the Clintons. In a year of populist fervor and anger, it was a misstep to ignore the “White Vote”, later causing the loss of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Working whites did not connect with the Clintons and the Clinton campaign wasn’t investing in creating a narrative for them; a costly mistake.
As a Bernie Supporter, I was against Clinton for about a year and a half, and even after Bernie lost I wasn’t ready to shell out $15 for a “I’m with Her” tee. I didn’t know Clinton, and after learning about Bernie’s history as an independent I wanted to see a shake-up in the political system. I voted for Obama in 2012 because I believed in what he represented , and again, I wasn’t passionate about Hillary.
I wasn’t the only one to share this opinion, as detailed in the book when Bernie had lost the Primary and agreed to film a succession of videos to help promote Clinton in the General Election against Donald Trump. After filming a number of spots on why Clinton is the best candidate to take on issues of equality, the economy, foreign affairs, and more, Clinton’s team asked Bernie to say,”I’m with Her”. He couldn’t do it.
“It’s so phony.” he replied. This crystalizes the core issue with Clinton’s narrative- there was no authenticity to it, and Americans could see it.
Shattered did a great job in showing me the opposite side of the Primary process I had lived through and showed the contempt that Hillary’s team had for the unyielding Sander’s campaign; despite the mathematical impossibility of his victory. Her team didn’t understand why he was running, why he was successful, and why he didn’t drop out after there was no chance of winning. This infuriated them, and continued to hurt her character after the Primary. It also possibly created a more longterm rift within the Democratic Party (I am not even going to get into the issue with Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the DNC Chair that later resigned).
It was fascinating to learn about the dynamic between Hillary and Joe Biden, when he was considering entering the primary race. Comparing Hillary’s ability to suck the oxygen out of the room as a way to describe leaving only a place for her to run as an establishment democratic candidate by gathering all the high price donors and political surrogates on her side, pushing Biden out.
Bernie tapped into an energy the Clinton campaign could never have, or, couldn’t have with their current strategy and messaging. Because he was an outsider, he had a kind of political immunity to the Clinton threats of disavowing him. As a new Democrat, he had the platform he needed to gain more attention to his causes. This use of the Democratic party (decided by his braintrust including Tad Devine and Jeff Weaver) infuriated establishment Democrats within Hillary’s campaign. His hybrid nature would have hurt him, had his campaign relied on big Democratic donors, but because of his online donations and populist speech it worked. In any other year, a Bernie campaign probably wouldn’t have made such big waves for a race designed for longterm party elites.
It was interesting at how the Michigan Primary was a turning point for Clinton’s campaign, but the hint never was taken. As mentioned earlier, Mook and company didn’t think Michigan voters, and particularily white voters were worth the effort to convince. (Michigan went to Bernie int he Primary, and Clinton never returned their until November 8th. That day, it went to Trump).
Bernie’s persistence kind of screwed Hillary (and tee’d up voters for Donald’s Trump’s calls of “Crooked Hillary” in the general) but ultimately he was not a democrat. Asking Bernie to “bow out” because Hillary had presumed herself the nominee prior to gaining the electoral votes needed wouldn’t work, in the same way she pressured other establishment democrats out of the race to begin with. Sadly, the damage Bernie did to Hillary was all true and accurate- she was a severely flawed candidate from all accounts taken in Shattered. In a lot of ways, it was a perfect storm and Bernie was the worst candidate she could have faced.
Donald is a high-caliber professional Troll, I am convinced. Very good with messaging, and very much taking advantage of a situation. And he trolled his way to an election win. From what the book described and what I have seen, the Donald was a media savvy opportunist, if anything. His ability to manipulate organizations and slow moving media is his core strength, developed over years in New York real estate and in Reality Television.
Leading up to the final days of the election, PR wasn’t so much about generating good press for either candidate- it revolved more around throwing as much dirt on the other candidate as possible and finding ways to erode their core competencies. It was a contest to see who could spill the most blood and watch the other one bleed out before the end. Shattered gives a great example of the day when Trump’s infamous video surfaced online in which he said,”I grab women by the pussy” was not A1 Headline news – Wikileak’s trove of stolen Pedestal Emails was instead the big news item. It was over-the-top scandalous one-upmanship.
On top of this, Robbie Mook and his team’s analytics driven data models where woefully inaccurate at tracking the electorate. This lead to inaccurate allocation of campaign funds in the days leading up to the election, and in general, a misreading of the electorate tea leaves. Coupled with a diluted narrative, terrible trust numbers, and a last minute public FBI statement from James Comey stating Hillary was possibly still on the hook for illegal emails lead to a chaotic first week of November.
The shock and awe of the final results can only be understood as a “Fuck You” vote by the people to the government, and the success of a master internet Troll capitalizing on angry disenfranchised white voters.
If the Clinton Campaign is guilty of any one sin, it has to be Hubris. The presumption of victory stretching from 2015 through the election results left them at a significant disadvantage; in a time of fervent populism, anti-establishment anger, and social media, the campaign devoted less funds toward changing minds, reaching out to their base (white working voters) and took for granted whole states in the electorate. This sense of entitlement permeated their attempts to run a campaign founded on consecutiveness and togetherness, and stood in sharp contrast to the outsider campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Despite the unprecedented nature of the 2016 election, I don’t buy the current and present day stance by the Clintons that they’re the victim.
President Obama, President Bill Clinton, and literally every other president elected prior to this had similar difficulties to face and were still elected. In my understanding the Clinton 2016 campaign failed, because it lacked authenticity or proper messaging to overcome the obstacles it faced.
As a Bernie supporter, reading this book made me angry for many reasons, but the one that stood out was learning that the Clinton Campaign didn’t want to “waste” campaign dollars on reaching me. The fact that Robbie Mook and other campaign operatives thought reaching out to Bernie’s followers was a waste of money is just annoying to hear, when that group (which likely voted third party, or not at all, for the General) was a big part of the difference in her success.
That anger extended to the campaigns inability to generate a functional and straightforward messaging on what Hillary Clinton was about. Bill Clinton’s old-school meet-and-greet voters approach that was largely ignored and belittled by the campaign operatives (Mook & Podesta) should have been used more in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.
Regardless if you are Republican, Democrat, or third party, Shattered was a great read and I encourage others to read it. If you have already read it, please provide your thoughts here, and feel free to comment on what I have written here.