Hillary Rodham Clinton’s once well-oiled campaign machine has devolved into a dysfunctional, bickering, petty collection of squabbles, disputes and shoutfests as the struggling Presidential candidate heads into what could be her political Waterloo on Tuesday.
Campaign sources tell Capitol Hill Blue that Clinton campaign strategy sessions turn into angry, finger-pointing blame sessions where top aides walk out.
Top campaign aides privately admit the situation is “grim” and say the campaign is spending money it doesn’t have and using a “shotgun approach” to attack Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama by “throwing everything we have at him.”
Aides say Clinton’s trademark campaign smile disappears the second she walks off stage and that she stalks away from aids and closets herself in her hotel suites between campaign appearances.
Demoralized campaign workers refer to Clinton’s increasingly strident campaign appearances as “dead candidate walking” and joke sarcastically about getting their resumes out because the end is near.
While the official campaign spin out says Clinton will fight on to the convention in Denver, the reality for most campaign staff members is that — barring a miracle large-marking win in both the Ohio and Texas primaries on Tuesday, the campaign is effectively over when the results come in that night.
With morale in the dumpster, the blame game escalates with most of the fault found with Clinton herself, her former President husband and campaign chief strategist Mark Penn.
Writes Thomas B. Edsall in The Huffington Post:
As the Clinton campaign struggles to pull out of a potentially terminal nosedive just four days before the decisive Ohio and Texas primaries, much of the blame for the former First Lady’s difficulties is falling on the shoulders of her controversial chief strategist, Mark Penn.
Critiques of Penn run a wide gamut:
- that he mistakenly assumed that Hillary Clinton would easily bulldoze the opposition,powered by money, endorsements and a legendary name.
- that his strategic strength resides in managing general election campaigns but he has an unreliable sense of the primary electorate.
- that Penn had an inadequate back-up plan for Obama’s emergence as a challenger, allowing the Clinton campaign to founder in full public view — trapped and exposed.
Penn will doubtless be the subject of endless debate, just as journalists and strategists interminably discuss the serial defeats of presidential candidates guided by former Democratic consultant Bob Shrum and the failure of Karl Rove to achieve his promised permanent pro-Republican realignment.
Strategic and tactical fault-finding, however, miss the key point. Clinton’s Mark Penn problem does not lie in the strategist’s advice and counsel — it lies in Penn himself.
Penn’s strategy depended entirely on wrapping up the nomination by Super Tuesday and did not include a Plan B. Obama, in the meantime, has run a textbook campaign with a superior ground game.
But much of the blame must also fall on Clinton herself and the incredible political baggage that comes with being part of the “Clinton dynasty.”
Writes Rosemary Roberts in the Greensboro News Record:
The first problem for Hillary was Hillary herself. She has never found her voice. One minute she is sensitive and even teary-eyed, the next minute she is strident. She ended one TV debate with a hug-in with Barack Obama but a few days later ranted against him like an angry school mistress. All of which sows confusion about who the real Hillary is. It also reinforces the stereotype that she bends her principles with the changing political breeze.
Her refusal, for example, to say she was wrong about the Iraq war shows this slippery side. Other senators — Joe Biden and former Sen. John Edwards — said they erred when they authorized the war but Hillary won’t admit it. Maybe she thinks the war tide may turn and victory might be attainable. Then she’d be on the wrong side of the issue. When asked in this week’s debate which Senate vote she’d like to cast differently, she cited the Iraq war vote. What took her so long to admit even that?
Another Hillary shortcoming is her oratorical style. She is personable in small crowds but sounds grating and polarizing in large arenas. At times she yells at audiences, presumably thinking a woman running for president must sound as tough as a man. Obama, by contrast, is an eloquent orator and rarely loses his cool.
And then there is Bill Clinton. Notes Karen Tumulty in Newsweek:
It is hard to miss the irony: the man from Hope is now trying to figure out how to tamp it down. But that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the spot in which Bill Clinton finds himself today, as his wife’s presidential campaign fights for its life in Ohio and Texas. What is harder to figure out is how much of the blame for her predicament belongs to him. “I think he just did her such damage,” says a friend and supporter, expressing a sentiment that many feel privately. “They’ll never see it that way, because they can’t. And he has no self-knowledge. This has magnified all his worst traits.”
Everyone around Hillary Clinton always recognized that Bill would be a mixed blessing for her campaign. Back in the pre-Obamamania days, her supporters assumed that no one could draw crowds, bring in money or ignite the base like the only Democratic President since F.D.R. to win reelection. Bill was considered the sharpest political strategist of his generation. And as public approval for President George W. Bush sank lower and lower, the Clinton years, for all their drama, were looking better and better. Yet there was always the worry about whether Bill would be able to stay within the constrained, derivative role of the candidate’s spouse. The biggest fear was that he would shine too bright, burn too hot, consign the candidate to his shadow.
In a campaign that has turned out to be all about change, however, Bill’s presence has become a reminder of the past and of the style of politics that Barack Obama has promised to bring to an end. Even worse, say many Democrats, Bill has put his wife’s political career in jeopardy by displaying the same character traits that almost ran his own presidency off the rails — a lack of self-control and an excess of self-absorption. It hasn’t always been clear whether Bill Clinton sees Obama as a threat to his wife’s prospects, or to his own legacy.
On the campaign trail, Bill’s way of grabbing the spotlight has reminded voters of what they didn’t like about the last Clinton presidency and what might be wrong with the next one. Lobbyist and former Texas Lieut. Governor Ben Barnes, long a prolific donor to the Clintons and other Democrats, says the former President is — as everyone knew he would be — his wife’s most powerful weapon. The problem is, says Barnes, who now supports Obama, “that gun kicks as bad as it shoots.”