Clinton 2016: More Hillary, Less Bill

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: Apr 09, 2015 3:30 PM
 Clinton 2016: More Hillary, Less Bill

It’s coming. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign announcement is imminent. Aides have been told to be on notice, and the makings of her national campaign have been operating in cramped spaces, including kitchens–and in some cases; hotel lobbies for a few weeks in preparation for the rollout. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica wrote about the dynamics of the Clinton machine as they prepare to launch their offensive to take the White House in 2016. They noted that only a handful of Clinton’s trusted advisers know the exact date of her announcement; that she will fight for every vote as aggressively as she can in Iowa and New Hampshire; she will campaign as if she has a strong challenger for the nomination; and she will shape her image as something independent of former President Bill Clinton. She will have to do that in order to avoid attacks on her campaign that this is a massive vanity exercise. In all, it appears that Robby Mook will be Cinton’s campaign manager, not John Podesta, and has been interviewing for the top positions for the past year.

In Iowa, not everyone is happy she’s running, and sources say Clinton would rather have a credible challenger instead of some hyper-liberal candidate from the party’s more progressive wing:

Over dinner and drinks one night last week at Baratta's, a cozy Italian restaurant in Des Moines, two top visiting Clinton strategists listened as supportive Iowa activists issued a stark warning: Some Democrats are far less enthused about her candidacy than others. After placing third in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, they said she must ask for every vote as well as being willing to run a gauntlet of small events and take part in grueling campaign sessions across the state.

Several Democrats close to Clinton say she would actually rather face a credible primary challenger — and she still might — rather than be forced to compete with unrealistic expectations of a phantom candidate being promoted by the party's more liberal left wing.

Zeleny and Merica discuss neutralizing the “I” factor:

But Clinton has told her advisers that she intends to aggressively campaign as though she has a primary opponent, aides say, by listening to concerns of voters and taking great pains to avoid the appearance of a coronation.

One approach is to avoid blatant suggestions of the historic nature of her candidacy, hoping to fight impressions that Clinton's presidential aspirations are all about her.

This first-person mantra, which flourished repeatedly throughout her statement back on Jan. 20, 2007, will be all but stripped from her vocabulary, aides say. In its place will be a pledge to carry the causes of Americans who feel left behind in the economic recovery and the growing divide among classes.

Forget the mistakes of the past; that won’t lead to victory:

Democrats close to her campaign-in-waiting have fought the urge to solely dwell on mistakes made during her 2008 candidacy. Their view is that she can't win the next two years by only trying to fix what happened the first time around, even though avoiding similar missteps is a key goal.

The cadre of operatives charting a course for her second presidential campaign are seeking to try and reintroduce Clinton - this time on her own terms - to American voters. These Democratic strategists say people know of Clinton, considering she has near 100 percent name recognition in most polls, but they don't know personal aspects of her story.

The goal in the next few months, aides say, will be to reintroduce Clinton through small, controlled and more personal events in hopes of casting her in a softer light than she was portrayed during her failed 2008 presidential run.

And while the job of retooling Clinton's image will be the job of multiple people on the communications team, it will fall primarily on Kristina Schake, a woman who, as Michelle Obama's communications director, turned the first lady into an everywoman known for dancing on national TV, gardening with her staff and touring colleges with her daughter.

Bill’s public role will be reduced:

Her team is quietly planning visits to Iowa and New Hampshire as soon as she declares her candidacy, but she intends to travel alone. Her supporters say she needs to be her own person, someone who steps out of the sizable shadow that has been cast over her by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

A discussion is underway for how much to embrace or include the former president at the outset, but aides say Hillary Clinton will be the focal point.

Let’s meet the Kitchen crew:

The campaign-in-waiting, meanwhile, is starting to take shape as a full-blown presidential operation. Conversations are underway on a variety of topics, including such mundane matters as how voters and even staff should refer to Clinton: Madam Secretary, senator or simply, Hillary

Mook, who will become the campaign manager, began building out his team earlier this year. Clinton conducted one-on-one interviews for nearly all top positions. A number of political operatives, including several alumni of the Barack Obama and John Edwards campaigns in 2008, moved to New York earlier this month. The workers are currently unpaid volunteers, but have been promised paychecks soon.

The new infusion of staffers has led to cramped quarters at Clinton's small personal office on West 45th Street, just off Times Square in midtown Manhattan. Some days, more than 25 people are jammed into a space once intended for Clintons' far smaller personal staff.

The crammed quarters have led to some funny moments. The campaign's digital team — one of the most important pieces of the organization, tasked with blasting out her announcement — has opened up shop in the kitchen, using counters as standing desks.

And for those who can't take the tight space, the storied lobby of the nearby Algonquin Hotel has been a secret Clinton headquarters for a few weeks.

I’m skeptical that Hillary can be “retooled” a la Michelle Obama. How could she? Leaving out the horrendous “dead broke” gaffe earlier last fall, the problems with her private email address and server–and questions surrounding the donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Foundations while she was secretary of state–has shown that it’s business as usual in the Clinton world. Since 2010, the Clinton Foundation has failed to disclose the names of her donors, which was promised by Hillary during the 2008 campaign. If her performance during the press conference at the UN regarding her private email address is any indication of how she will handle the media concerning the inquiries into the Foundation, then she has a lot of work to do. The UN presser didn’t dispel anything, and the narrative she gave completely collapsed under media scrutiny.

As for campaigning, she does need to fight for every vote, look aggressive, and not coast until the Democratic Convention. But how can we gauge any improvement without a credible challenger? The Washington Examiner’s Byron York had a great example of Hillary’s weakness as a campaigner concerning the Idaho Caucuses. In 2008, Obama won more net delegates in that contest with 21,000 participants, than Hillary gained by winning the New Jersey primary with over 1 million voters.

That’s goes along with the fact that her record on foreign policy is collapsing before our eyes, the optics of her being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches about middle class hardship is awful, and she will have to convince the American electorate that a Democrat in the White House for another four years is the optimal choice. Right now, not many see it that way.