... one of the more interesting sidelights of what certainly will be a deluge of post-mortems regarding the 2016 presidential campaign is the widely held notion that Hillary Rodham Clinton was gifted with a uniquely easy opponent. This idea is central to the narrative that holds that HRC's campaign was a uniquely bad one, and she a uniquely bad candidate.We're talking about this because of a new book, Shattered by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, which dissects the real and alleged failures of the Clinton campaign. From the left-center, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times has given it a rave review; from further to the left, so has Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. By contrast, Scott Lemieux puts it in the category of " 'random inside baseball campaign anecdotes that assume without argument that the degree of campaign infighting is the most important variable determining the outcome of elections' books," while The Washington Post's Steven Ginsburg questions the book's focus:
... The fact is that the current spate of Clinton-bashing completely ignores one undeniable fact: Donald Trump was a helluva candidate. In fact, for the cultural and political context within which that election took place, he might have been a perfect candidate.
... Trump took on a Republican field composed of what was alleged to be the best that party had to offer, the deepest part of its allegedly deep bench, and he utterly destroyed it....
That Trump never paid a price in the eyes of his voters for ... meretricious goonery is the best evidence there is that, in 2016, anyway, he was in every sense a formidable political force. And, let it not be forgotten that he brought with him a Republican Senate, a Republican House, and massive gains out in the states as well.
Does it really matter who was pissy at whom in Brooklyn when we still don’t know what role the Russians played in the election or why FBI Director James Comey publicly announced a reopening of the email investigation in late October? Those questions are largely left unexplored here, other than as targets of Clinton’s post-election ire.Clinton won the primaries despite competing against a much more natural politician with a compelling message, and she decisively won the general-election popular vote. But she's the failure, and maybe Trump is a genius.
Staying inside Clinton’s inner circle also keeps the story oddly away from Trump, who is absent from much of the book even though he was the dominant force throughout the election.
Since we're judging Clinton, I want to post a brief insider-opinion clip from the past that was surfaced today as part of an unrelated argument. We all know what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about the judge who blocked the Trump administration's second Muslim ban:
"I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power."In response to that, Jim Newell posts this:
Great moments in the history of othering Hawaii https://t.co/y2q3yXSK9r— Jim Newell (@jim_newell) April 21, 2017
I want you to watch it not for its relevance to what Sessions said, but for its relevance to the question of campaign competence. Notice the date: August 10, 2008. You may recall that as a moment when Barack Obama was on a glide path to electoral victory. But here's what Cokie Roberts said as Obama vacationed in Hawaii, the state of his birth, jyst rior to the Democratic convention:
COKIE ROBERTS: He has certainly come nowhere near closing the deal, as we've talked about before. In this year that should be such a Democratic year given all the other indices, he is tied in the polls and stays tied in the polls. And going off this week to vacation in Hawaii does not make any sense whatsoever. I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii, and I know Hawaii is a state. But it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beache, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time. I just think, you know, this is not the time to do that.Sure, this is ridiculous ("I know Hawaii is a state") -- but this is the thinking of the pundit/insider journalist class, the class to which Allen and Parnes belong, a class whose conclusions even the self-styled rebel Taibbi endorses. And this is the kind of thing that would have been said about Obama if he actually had lost in 2008. It would have been noted that Clinton defeated him in primaries all over the country -- in New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio. The rejection of the PUMAs would have been regarded as decisive. Or the Jeremiah Wright controversy. Or the "cling to guns and religion" controversy.
Instead, the reviews after the election said that Obama ran a "near-perfect campaign," or even a "perfect campaign." We don't know how the Obama campaign would have looked if, for instance, the financial implosion hadn't happened, or if John McCain had chosen a better VP candidate (although maybe the Palin pick was eight years ahead of its time).
All campaigns are flawed. The Clinton campaign might have been more flawed than most, but circumstances always make winners look like geniuses.
If you want my pet theory, it's simply that we elect the more charismatic, mediagenic candidate every four years, and we've done that in every election since at least 1976, if not earlier. (Johnson-Goldwater might be the last obvious exception to the rule.) I don't really agree with Charlie Pierce that Trump was a great candidate, but he was the more compelling one. And maybe that was enough. Maybe campaign savvy doesn't matter as much as we think.