- Thomas Reuters
A new book on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for president details how the candidate seemed to blame everyone but herself for her stunning loss to President Donald Trump.
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes wrote in “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” that Clinton’s campaign lacked vision and was filled with infighting staffers who were more concerned about their own careers than they were about helping the candidate win.
The Democratic presidential nominee reportedly laid blame on several external factors – incompetent campaign staff, Russian interference in the election, the news media, and FBI Director Jim Comey – rather than consider that she was a flawed candidate. Her campaign has publicly blamed Comey for the loss.
It all started with the scandal surrounding her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
During the first months of the scandal, Clinton reportedly thought she did nothing wrong and was angry that she was being treated “like a common criminal.” She blamed Republicans in Congress, conservative donors, and the media for all the negative coverage of the email story.
Allen and Parnes wrote that while Clinton “should have been angry with herself” for her decision to use a private server while working for the government, she instead “turned her fury on her consultants and campaign aides, blaming them for a failure to focus the media on her platform.”
Neither Hillary nor her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the book said, “could accept the simple fact that Hillary had hamstrung her own campaign and dealt the most serious blow to her own presidential aspirations.”
That became apparent during a mid-August 2015 conference call, in which the Clintons accosted high-level campaign staffers for failing to get the media to focus on Clinton’s message rather than on the email scandal. One of the participants on the call reportedly called it an “ass-chewing.”
It took months for those close to Clinton to persuade her to apologize for using a private server in September. The media firestorm calmed a bit once she did, and she got a boost when Vice President Joe Biden declined to challenge her in the primaries. But she faced more defining setbacks in the primary process.
- Brian Snyder/Reuters
‘We haven’t made our case’
A turning point came in March, when Clinton lost the Michigan primary to Sen. Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. The result stunned observers and defied polling leading up to the day of the vote.
Clinton again blamed her campaign team for “failing to hone her message, energize important constituencies, and take care of business in getting voters to the polls,” Allen and Parnes wrote.
During a debate-prep session, Clinton reportedly snapped at senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan, who was criticizing her performance.
“It wasn’t just Sullivan in her crosshairs,” Allen and Parnes wrote. “She let everyone on her team have it that day. ‘We haven’t made our case,’ she fumed. ‘We haven’t framed the choice. We haven’t done the politics.'”
One aide who was in the room for the debate prep said Clinton was “visibly, unflinchingly pissed off at us as a group” and she “let us know she felt that way.”
Clinton’s team had reportedly warned her about some of her weak spots, but she reportedly “hadn’t corrected for these problems.” And aides seemed afraid to speak out for fear of seeming disloyal.
“The one person with whom she didn’t seem particularly upset: herself,” Allen and Parnes wrote. “No one who drew a salary from the campaign would tell her that. It was a self-signed death warrant to raise a question about Hillary’s competence – to her or anyone else – in loyalty-obsessed Clintonworld.”
A top campaign lieutenant described Clinton’s loss in the Michigan primary as the “tipping point” for the campaign.
Things got worse from there. The summer and early fall were dominated by the leaking of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Later in, FBI Director Jim Comey announced a renewed look into whether Clinton discussed classified information over her private email server.
After she lost the election to Trump, Clinton “kept circling back to two factors: James Comey and Russia,” according to the book. The email leaks have been blamed on Russia, and during the final days before the election, Comey notified Congress that the bureau was renewing its investigation into Clinton’s private email server. The bureau had found emails it thought might be related to the investigation after it seized devices belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.
On election night in her hotel suite, Clinton “lashed out,” Allen and Parnes wrote. “Her voice rose. Her eyes grew wider. Her hands began moving again. ‘These guys came in,’ she huffed. ‘We were doing better until this happened.'”
- Thomson Reuters
‘A perfect storm’
The blame game continued in the days after the election. In one phone call with a friend a couple of days after the election, Clinton “put a fine point on the factors she believed cost her the presidency: the FBI (Comey), the KGB (the old name for Russia’s intelligence service), and the KKK (the support Trump got from white nationalists),” Allen and Parnes wrote.
In other phone calls, Clinton reportedly “declined to take responsibility for her own loss.”
“From Hillary’s perspective, external forces created a perfect storm that wiped her out,” Allen and Parnes wrote. “In this telling, laid out in scores of interviews with Clinton campaign aides and advisers … the media bought into an absurd and partisan Republican-led investigation into her email server that combined with Bernie Sanders’ attack on her character and a conservative assault on the Clinton Foundation’s practices to sow a public perception that she was fundamentally dishonest.”
Some of her staunchest defenders “maintain that she nailed every major moment of the campaign,” Allen and Parnes wrote. They added, however, that another view, “articulated by a much smaller number of her close friends and high-level advisers, holds that Hillary bears the blame for her defeat” because of her own actions and her inability to “prove to many voters that she was running for the presidency because she had a vision for the country rather than visions of power.”
In their eyes, the book said, Clinton also failed to connect with the voters who were inspired by Sanders and Trump. And some on her campaign thought she lacked the vision of other politicians like President Barack Obama.
This was on display during her speech at the Democratic National Convention.
“One of the clearest lines of distinction between a great political speech and a pedestrian one is the ability of the speaker to turn the peroration – the final run – into a big call for action,” Allen and Parnes wrote. “Hillary’s fell flat. Her pro speechwriters knew it would. They tried to save her from being hokey and timid. But she’d ignored them.”
Clinton ended her speech that night by saying “America’s destiny is ours to choose” and repeating her “Stronger Together” campaign slogan.
Clinton did, however, offer contrition to at least one person on election night – Obama.
After she conceded the election to Trump, Obama place a consolation call to Clinton. In this moment, “the reality and dimensions of her defeat hit her all at once,” according to the book.
“Reluctantly, she rose from her seat and took the phone,” Allen and Parnes wrote.
“‘Mr. President,’ she said softly, ‘I’m sorry.'”