Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Andrew Shirley.
Campaign books used to have a lot more heavy drinking in them. They had intrigue, they had scandal, and scads and scads of gratuitous sex. Or at least one side screwing another. Not so today. Infighting is the new intrigue, slander is the new scandal, and “snark” is the new sex. Maybe that’s why almost every source quote in Shattered; Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign has at least one curse word. Sexual frustration manifests itself in many forms. In the salubrious, moist towelette, analytical, data driven, cold, calculating, “ClintonLand” (once known more creatively as “Big Sister”), the tawdry details of human nature are as alien to the campaign as the voters were to the campaign staff. All this in Shattered and Bill Clinton too.
Shattered has other qualities that make it unique. For those asking the strategic question of “why,” this book is not for you. The authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, to their credit, don’t editorialize. For those asking the tactical question of “how,” Shattered is a strong resource that is sure to be cited in campaign strategies for years to come.
The book reads less like Theodore White’s The Making of a President, 1960 and more of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones (but without the aforementioned sex). Each chapter becomes its own little mini-drama and while some characters and themes carry over, many pass by. You could almost shuffle the chapters and not lose clarity, but this would deprive the reader of the overall themes that the Amie Parnes & Jonathan Allen articulate rather effectively. Those themes of jockeying, betrayal, infighting, and kingmaking would be welcome more in feudal court than western elections.
Most tales mainly revolve around the machinations of “rising star,” “political assassin,” and Campaign Manager Robby Mook. The data driven analytic’s first and ongoing task was to unite the various factions of employees, loyalists, advisers, hangers on, and ne’er-do-wells from Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, State Department faction, establishment Democrat faction, old friend’s faction, 2008 campaign faction, various boosters, Obama’s faction, Clinton Foundation faction, Arkansas faction … the list goes on. King David could sympathize.
It was, and is, a task impossible for anyone other than Clinton herself, but choosing Mook for this was disastrous. The book details when he was asked what would he do if made head of the DCCC in 2012, his immediate response was “clean house.” Fire everyone and “force people to reapply for their jobs. Those who remain know who whom they know allegiance. And use the new opening to bring in loyalists.” Mook’s own faction was the “Mook Mafia.” Considering Michael Corleone’s similar strategy to “unite” the Five Families of New York, it was an apt title. After his ascension to Campaign Manager, Mook’s first hit wasn’t Sollozzo, it was a “Clinton missionary.”
Ready for Hillary super PAC leader Adam Parkhomenko obsessively spent ten of his then-thirty years on earth trying to make Hillary president. Despite Clinton’s clear request and promise to see him and his entire staff made a part of the campaign proper, Mook disregarded the request, raided their fundraising lists, and “kneecapped” the organization. Only months later when the staff was railing publicly about their treatment and Clinton started asking questions, did Mook bring on Parkhomenko and a shell of his staff. He would be given a token position with little staff and less money, recompense for a decade of loyalty. Parkhomenko wasn’t the only Hillary loyalist, reduced to an empty title at the Brooklyn Campaign headquarters; he was just an easy one.
Hillary Clinton never fired anyone, she layered people over, moved them up and down, but never fired anyone. Fired employees talk. Layering ensured “loyalty.” But it wasn’t just those who fell out of favor who haunted the halls. The book is filled with one example after another of operatives and leaders, brought in and folded over. She wanted to make sure their expertise were used for her campaign and only hers, but would then ignore them in favor of her seraphim choir. She was never hiring, she was collecting. Inside they were controlled, neutered and inaccessible to rivals. There must have been dozens of Jacob Marleys rattling chains and proselyting at would-be Scrooges while wandering the halls; omnipresent reminders of what awaited anyone who dare question, fail, or threaten Clinton or the inner circle. There’s no nobility in dissent in "Clintonland" and there are no heroes in Shattered.
This book refuses and refutes simple narratives. It would be easy to lionize Senator Bernie Sanders as the noble populist or label him an aggressive insurrectionist who sold out Hillary, her party, and our country to enhance himself. Shattered doesn’t do either. This book gives out no life rafts; nobody can claim “they saw it coming.” Most political books need a hero to be sustainable. That means the narrative must be simplified and accommodating. Shattered is under no such obligation and makes it very clear that no one in the Clinton nebula can say, “I told you so.” Some saw what others didn’t but no one is blameless. “All are punished,” but none fare as badly as Clinton.
For all the failings of the Clinton team, which the book notes extensively, the failure ultimately rested with Clinton herself. She worked for years to create a clear hierarchy that was “drama-free” yet she actively empowered people to circumvent that command. She and Mook assert that they never expected a coronation, but they had no contingency plan for when Sanders proved a threat. She would have the greatest minds on her team, but rarely listened to that team. She demanded they craft her campaign vision, but couldn’t articulate that vision. She didn’t understand why voters weren’t “getting her” but wouldn’t meet voters outside staged events. With millions of dollars and endless committees at every turn, every speech, statement, and appearance was polished, saccharine and so palatable to everyone that it appealed to no one.
All said, the book is quite good and writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes are to be commended for ferreting out deep information. If they do it again, it will advance them to the front lines of campaign journalists.
Most campaign books, especially those written without a decade of emotional distance and intellectual clarity, have been reduced to cash grabs for publishers and consultants as well as mechanisms by which consultants settle scores, self-aggrandize, and shift blame for failed strategies while earning piles of cash. Shattered merits mark it well above this once interesting and insightful discipline. Even its title is unique; it’s metaphonically palindromic. The book could have had the same name if she has won.