Mark Penn, the top campaign strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, advised her to portray Barack Obama as having a “limited” connection “to basic American values and culture,” according to a forthcoming article in The Atlantic.
The magazine reports Penn suggested getting much rougher with Obama in a memo on March 30, after her crucial wins in Texas and Ohio: “Does anyone believe that it is possible to win the nomination without, over these next two months, raising all these issues on him? ... Won’t a single tape of [the Reverend Jeremiah] Wright going off on America with Obama sitting there be a game ender?”
Atlantic Senior Editor Joshua Green writes that major decisions during her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination would be put off for weeks until suddenly Clinton “would erupt, driving her staff to panic and misfire.”
Green reports that on a staff conference call in January where Clinton received “little response” or “silence” to several of her suggestions for how to recover from the Iowa loss and do better in New Hampshire, “Clinton began to grow angry, according to a participant’s notes,” Green recounts. “‘This has been a very instructive call, talking to myself,’ she snapped, and hung up.”
The eight-page blockbuster, “The Front-Runner’s Fall,” draws on internal memos, e-mails and meeting notes to reveal what the magazine’s September issue calls “the backstabbing and conflicting strategies that produced an epic meltdown.”
Penn, the presidential campaign’s chief strategist, wrote in a memo to Clinton excerpted in the article: “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”
A key take-away from the article is that Clinton received a lot of accurate advice, including from Penn. He wrote a remarkably prescient memo in March 2007 about the importance of appealing to what he called “the Invisible Americans,” specifically “WOMEN, LOWER AND MIDDLE CLASS VOTERS” — exactly the groups that helped Clinton beat Obama in key states nearly a year later.
But no one synthesized and acted on the good advice.
“The anger and toxic obsessions overwhelmed even the most reserved Beltway wise men,” Green writes. “[H]er advisers couldn’t execute strategy; they routinely attacked and undermined each other, and Clinton never forced a resolution. ... [S]he never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel.
“What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make.”
Geoffrey Garin, a well-known Democratic pollster who helped direct the campaign’s strategy team for Clinton’s presidential campaign during its final two months, wrote in a memo to at least 10 top campaign aides that he wanted to stop “end runs” around communications director Howard Wolfson.
“I don’t mean to be an asshole, but ... changes to important statements and other critical campaign communications simply have to go through Howard,” Garin wrote on April 12. “Howard is the person who is ultimately responsibility for making sure that we deliver our messages the right way, and I hope everyone will support and respect him in that role.”
Robert Barnett, the superlawyer and longtime Clinton adviser, e-mailed about 20 Clinton aides on March 6, with the subject line “STOP IT !!!!”: “This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable and unacceptable. ... After this campaign is over, there will be plenty of time to access blame or claim credit.”
Another part of that e-mail was quoted in The New York Times in a June article by Peter Baker and Jim Rutenberg.