If you thought Hillary Clinton’s handling of her email fiasco was puzzling, you’re not alone. Even President Obama was befuddled by the way his former adversary handled the situation, noting that it reminded him of how he beat her in the 2008 primaries. In the new book by The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Sidewire’s Jonathan Allen, “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” released today details what should have been a winnable election for the career politician that turned into an abject nightmare over largely avoidable mistakes.
For starters, the book details how Obama was at a loss for why Clinton, who had been his secretary of state, would set up what turned out to be an unauthorized and unsecure server to conduct all of her official business. It was a breach of government protocol concerning the collection and preservation of all electronic communications. Moreover, it did present a possible national security risk that drew the attention of the FBI. The second thing that perplexed him was how she handled it (via The Hill):
He [Obama] couldn’t understand what possessed Hillary to set up the private e-mail server, and her handling of the scandal — obfuscate, deny, and evade — amounted to political malpractice,” the authors wrote.
Clinton's actions, according to Parnes and Allen, reminded Obama of some of the “qualities” that helped him win the Democratic primary in 2008. The book also includes an anecdote from July 2016 when Clinton and Obama traveled aboard Air Force One to their first joint campaign rally. FBI Director James Comey said on the same day as the event that he would not recommend charges against Clinton over her use of the private server.
Despite what Clintonites might think, this was a story. A presidential candidate, and member of one of the most successful and ruthless political machines, might have compromised national security and mishandled classified information with this homebrew server. Ensuring that the opposite occurs while in office is at the core of the presidential oath. The Clintons didn’t seem to care, nor were they going to admit that they did something wrong (via USA Today):
Hillary instead turned her fury on her consultants and campaign aides, blaming them for a failure to focus the media on her platform," the book reads. "In her ear the whole time, spurring her on to cast blame on others and never admit to anything, was her husband. Neither Clinton could accept the simple fact that Hillary had hamstrung her own campaign and dealt the most serious blow to her own presidential aspirations."
You know who did care? Voters. Young people flocked to her primary opponent Bernie Sanders in droves and her appalling deficit on trust and honesty because of this email fiasco killed her on character issues. The damage was irreparable. No one really found her likable, relatable, or authentic. She had no economic message. Her campaign shunned white working class voters, who turned out for Donald Trump en masse. She may have had a resume, but Hillary Clinton as president was never going to happen. Still, political introspection eludes Clinton.
The former first lady and now two-time presidential loser attended the liberal Women in the World Summit earlier this month, where she says that misogyny, Russia, FBI Director James Comey, and Wikileaks were the top four reasons for her defeat. CNN commentator Kirsten Powers aptly noted that something is missing here: Hillary Clinton. She was the top of the ticket, though she bore no responsibility for the most shocking loss in American political history? Powers mentioned how this isn’t helpful in moving on from this stinging defeat.
Well, Russia’s impact on the election through propaganda through state-funded media and the deployment of social media trolls wasn’t really a factor in tilting the election. The emergence of fake news also didn’t play a pivotal role; Facebook also said that these stories didn’t sway the election. Regarding FBI Director Comey, he wanted to detail the level of Russian interference in an op-ed last summer, the Obama White House stopped him. Moreover, the FBI was only involved because Clinton engaged in setting up a private email system for official use that (again) befuddled key members of the party, like the leader of the Democrats—President Obama. Misogyny was really not at issue since 52 percent of white women (and 62 percent of white working class women) voted for Trump. Yes, liberals learned the hard way your race, gender, ethnicity, or religion does not peg you to a certain political ideology or party. The notion of a women’s voting bloc voting in unison, especially when a woman is on a major ticket, proved to be a myth. The Democratic National Security server hacks could have been mitigated if they had better security measures, like the ones installed at the Republican National Committee. As for Podesta, well—you can blame an IT staffer’s typo in an email for opening the floodgates on that treasure trove. Still, there were other campaign decisions from Clinton and her staff that helped kill her presidential hopes (via NYT):
The authors of “Shattered,” however, write that even some of her close friends and advisers think that Clinton “bears the blame for her defeat,” arguing that her actions before the campaign (setting up a private email server, becoming entangled in the Clinton Foundation, giving speeches to Wall Street banks) “hamstrung her own chances so badly that she couldn’t recover,” ensuring that she could not “cast herself as anything but a lifelong insider when so much of the country had lost faith in its institutions.”
“Shattered” underscores Clinton’s difficulty in articulating a rationale for her campaign (other than that she was not Donald Trump). And it suggests that a tendency to value loyalty over competence resulted in a lumbering, bureaucratic operation in which staff members were reluctant to speak truth to power, and competing tribes sowed “confusion, angst and infighting.”
Despite years of post-mortems, the authors observe, Clinton’s management style hadn’t really changed since her 2008 loss of the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama: Her team’s convoluted power structure “encouraged the denizens of Hillaryland to care more about their standing with her, or their future job opportunities, than getting her elected.”
As described in “Shattered,” Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook — who centered the Clinton operation on data analytics (information about voters, given to him by number crunchers) as opposed to more old-fashioned methods of polling, knocking on doors and trying to persuade undecideds — made one strategic mistake after another, but was kept on by Clinton, despite her own misgivings.
“Mook had made the near-fatal mistakes of underestimating Sanders and investing almost nothing early in the back end of the primary calendar,” Parnes and Allen write, and the campaign seemed to learn little from Clinton’s early struggles. For instance, her loss in the Michigan primary in March highlighted the problems that would pursue her in the general election — populism was on the rise in the Rust Belt, and she was not connecting with working-class white voters — and yet it resulted in few palpable adjustments.
In chronicling these missteps, “Shattered” creates a picture of a shockingly inept campaign hobbled by hubris and unforced errors, and haunted by a sense of self-pity and doom, summed up in one Clinton aide’s mantra throughout the campaign: “We’re not allowed to have nice things.”
The email is one of the many parts of the iceberg that sunk the Clinton ship, with its public disclosure and the botched handling of it (remember the cloth remark?) prompting the former first lady to eventually go dark on press conference for almost a year, proved to be a harbinger of things to come. The lack of reaching out to white working class voters, which often causes consternation among the more progressive and diversity-obsessed members of the Left, was on the minds of some staffers and nothing changed. It’s a major tweak that could have tilted the election. Trump won these folks by a three-to-one margin, if it were two-to-one—2016 might have ended differently. Still, the data showed that the Democratic base was large enough to shun these voters, who number in the tens of millions. In all, some members of Team Clinton saw the torpedo coming at them, they tried to warn upper management, and their decision was to go full steam ahead into it. The handling of the email server proved to be emblematic of how this campaign was run—right into the ground.
Last Note: Let's not forget that Obama had emailed Clinton using a pseudonym dating back to 2012. The Obama White House said they knew of Clinton's private server, and that the president did correspond with her on that address, but added that he never knew it was used for official use. In 2015, the year The New York Times first reported on the server, Obama said he found that out about the arrangement in the news. So, what was with the pseudonym, then?