Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign Review (Jonathan Allen, Amie Parnes)

Hindsight is 20/20 so it’s easy now to see the signs that portended Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid, but, in the months leading up to Election Night 2016, I don’t remember anyone seriously thinking Trump would win. She’s got this – OF COURSE Hillary’s gonna win. The infamous “grab the pussy” tape, those embarrassing debates Trump clearly lost where he looked like the barely-literate buffoon he is? Come on. It’s a formality. And Trump implying that he would contest the election results, that they’d probably be rigged, days before voting? What a scumbag – he and his racist, misogynistic supporters MUST accept the results to preserve the integrity of the democratic process!

And then the rout was on. The Democrats lost states they always carried, the “blue wall”, everyone – Trump included, going by the shell-shocked expression on his face after the results came in – was stunned at the outcome, and suddenly it was the left who were rioting in the streets, hypocritically refusing to accept the results, tediously and ineffectively chanting “NOT MY PRESIDENT!”.

How did the unthinkable happen? Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes produce a fairly decent, though unsurprising if you followed the election, answer with Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.

The biggest impression you get from reading this book is just how many reasons there are for why everything went tits up for Hills. The list goes on and on, the highlights being: the personal email server where she allegedly and illegally sent classified information, Benghazi, the complete lack of enthusiasm at her rallies compared to Trump’s massive crowds, FBI Director James Comey’s investigations, the Russian hack, her increasingly poor health (culminating in her passing out at the 9/11 memorial and being dragged, Weekend at Bernie’s style, by her aides into her SUV), and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) corruption in the primaries.

But there’s more! 2016 was the year of populism where people showed just how fed up they were with the establishment, first with Brexit and then with Trump – and nobody was more establishment that former First Lady/Senator for New York/Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Not to mention Hillary’s habit of kneecapping herself leading up to the campaign: the paid speeches to bankers that played into her establishment image, the private email server in her house that made her look reckless, the shady Clinton Foundation that made her and Bill even more wealthy, and the collusion within her party to make her the preordained candidate despite considerably more enthusiasm from supporters for Bernie Sanders.

And still there’s more! Unlike Bill, she’s a horrible public speaker and a seemingly cold and distant person who failed to appear genuine or connect with ordinary people. She also had extremely poor messaging – why did she want to be president? It was never clear. What were her main policies? Erm, to reinforce Obama’s legacy? The main things that stood out about Hillary, like the emails and the establishment image, were negative. Compared to Trump’s overly simplistic, yet direct and effective, soundbites, her messaging sorely lacked focus and appeal. Yes, she’s intelligent with a strong grasp of policy detail, but nuance doesn’t work with a large section of the electorate, which she learned to her detriment. 

Allen and Parnes also highlight the flaws in Clinton’s campaign team. Her campaign manager, Robby Mook, rightfully gets the most flak, relying too much as he did on analytics, refusing to spend any money on traditional polling and leaving the campaign without a strong sense of the electorate’s mood – more evidence of the dangers of living in a bubble. Hillary also fatally chose not to do much face-to-face campaigning (maybe because of her health?), despite Bill and Obama urging her to, so she never set foot in key states like Wisconsin, which she lost to Bernie in the primaries and later to Trump in the general. There’s still something to be said about grassroots politics.

The authors make the clever and astute observation that her slogan – “I’m With Her” – made her candidacy about her rather than the electorate and improving their lives (as well as highlighting her gender as a ludicrous reason in itself to vote for her!). Hillary was definitely far too driven by numbers and stats so she couldn’t see that she was utterly failing to inspire the poor, rural, working-class whites who voted for her husband years ago and who now turned to Trump.

But Allen/Parnes’ speculation of Putin’s supposed motivation for allegedly attempting to sabotage Hillary’s campaign is unconvincing – apparently he held a grudge against her for a slight going back to her Secretary of State days? At any rate, let’s be clear about this “Russian hacking” issue because too many uninformed people who don’t read beyond the headlines actually believe Russian hackers changed the election results and tampered with the votes themselves. Nope!

Actually, Russian hackers hacked campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account, as well as DNC emails, and gave the thousands of emails to Wikileaks to publish. The emails showed the widespread corruption within the DNC to rig the primaries in Hillary’s favour, with cooperation from inside Hillary’s campaign. Yes, it made Hillary look bad but that’s what happens when you unmask the monster - all the Russian hackers did was reveal how crooked the Democrats are! And we’re meant to be mad at them for that!? It’s a damn shame the news services aren’t as tenacious to uncover the truth. I saw a great meme about this that went something like “The 2016 Election: Where Hackers Became Journalists and Journalists Became Hacks” – too right!

Ironically though, it was FBI Director James Comey, an American (and a Republican), who, by reopening his investigation into her emails right before Election Day, arguably did more damage to Hillary’s bid than any Russian hacker ever did. That fatal whiff of corruption never left Hillary during the entire campaign.

I felt that, in places, Allen/Parnes weren’t critical enough of Hillary. They acknowledge that people see Hillary as corrupt but fail to talk about the reasons why, like the Clinton Foundation’s pay-to-play practices or the reasons behind Hillary’s acceptance to make lucrative speeches to bankers behind closed doors. That said, I could see why they omitted that as being peripheral to their focus on the campaign itself. But they really dropped the ball in the section on the DNC rigging the primaries for Hillary. They mention that Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign as chairperson of the DNC as a result of the leaked emails but fail to mention that she was immediately hired by Hillary as honorary chair of her 50 State Program. Gee, maybe it’s details like this that make people see Hillary as corrupt?!

I would’ve liked more on Hillary’s health as well. Her fainting spell on 9/11 was due to pneumonia but she’d been coughing for months and months and has a habit of falling down – all very alarming details for anyone, let alone a presidential candidate! She fell in 2012 and got a concussion that took her SIX MONTHS to get over! Why is she always falling? Is her brain ok? Is pneumonia all that’s wrong with her? It’s never questioned and her sickness is quickly glossed over.

While outside forces like a rogue FBI Director, Russian hackers, an incompetent campaign manager and far too many lieutenants with no strong central command overseeing it all (Mook was, well, aptly named compared to Obama’s brilliant strategists, David Plouffe and David Axelrod) could all be pointed to as reasons for Hillary’s failed presidential bid, at the end of the day the blame, as it should, rests with the candidate herself. Ultimately, she’s the real reason why she didn’t win even if she apparently chose instead to blame everyone else instead - a sign of a lack of character and a weak leader. 

I’d hoped for an insight into Hillary’s mind-set during the campaign but after finishing the book I still hadn’t much of a sense of who she was – she remains cold, distant, unknowable, even sub-human! Maybe that’s the fault of the authors but similar complaints were echoed by voters and was plausibly one of the reasons why some people didn’t vote for her, so perhaps Allen/Parnes simply couldn’t penetrate the Clinton armour to reveal the humanity beneath. Or maybe that’s who she really is.

The book also drags in places like the primaries (where I think more time was spent than on the general itself!) with too much uninteresting detail on petty internal squabbling. The relatively unexciting primaries could be summed up as Hillary was good at winning delegates but Bernie was gaining momentum – repeat for scores and scores of pages!

Shattered is informative and a fairly well-written overview of Hillary’s campaign but I feel like it didn’t contain enough new information to satisfy or recommend. It’s intermittently interesting and flat in parts - the definitive book on Hillary’s (hopefully) final campaign hasn’t been written yet but it’ll do for now until that book is published.

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