Originally published December 18, 2014
Date: January 2015-December 2015
(Westchester, New York) Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton became a candidate for President of the United States in April 2015. The former Secretary of State and New York Senator had planned the bid for months.
Her “listening tour” had been reprised, to great effect. The Clinton campaign had severed ties (formally) with outside groups and furnished them with a basic game plan to follow. The Clinton staff had been arranged, with former White House fixer and major Democratic operative Ron DeHall* chairing the Clinton campaign. The bevy of Democratic endorsements had been lined up. Democratic donors had been given the game plan and given their marching orders. The Clinton campaign had all the trappings of an incumbent President gearing up for re-election rather than an outsider planning a Presidential bid.
Despite the threat from former Governor Martin O’Malley (D-Maryland), the Clinton campaign was supremely assured. Polls showed that Clinton had an even larger lead in the primaries than former Vice President Al Gore (D-Tennessee) had over Sen. Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey). Secretary Clinton was the most guaranteed Democratic Presidential candidate who had not been the incumbent in history. The power behind the Clinton campaign was so immense that the nomination seemed a foregone conclusion, according to campaign observers.
The donors unfurled their banners and flooded the campaign and its orbiting PAC’s with money, more money than ever recorded. By the time of the Iowa caucuses, Secretary Clinton had amassed some $300 million. President George W. Bush had raised $367 million for his entire 2004 campaign; Secretary Clinton would raise 81% of that by January 2015.
Every leading Democratic strategist and technocrat was on the campaign. The major stars were all on it – veterans from the first Clinton Presidency, the Obama campaign, the Kerry and Gore campaigns – everyone. The technology operation was not merely preparing for a primary challenge; but a General election. They saw the primaries as a warm up to the General Election, and a measure of turning out voters and fine tuning the voter models.
Not only that, virtually every Democratic office holder was behind Secretary Clinton. Those who weren’t endorsing her were either quiet or a very select few low level functionaries endorsed her opponents. The reality was however that the vast majority of Democrats were behind the Clinton campaign. And that had to do with two reasons. One, the Clintons had quietly politically forced into retirement a number of Democratic officials, who had endorsed President Barack Obama. They had viciously gone after these candidates and rewarded their own supporters. The List of the Clinton enemies from 2008 was the stuff of legend. There was a reason Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) had rushed to endorse Secretary Clinton in June 2013, trying to position herself as the first among many endorsements. She was trying to get herself off the List, or to at least, avoid a hostile nominee from her own party. Clinton World certainly remembered her apostasies. Multiply this by many people over, and dissent was very much crushed. The other reason was that most Democrats saw Secretary Clinton as the only hope for the Party in 2016. If they weren’t motivated by fear, they were motivated by a desire to win. These two gravitational forces pulled the endorsements together in a way like no other.
But there were rumblings of discontent.
In the end, it was a lot of cooks in the kitchen. The power struggle was hidden from the outside world but was very real inside the Clinton campaign. This was fueled from the top – the Clinton’s paranoia and insular outlook, forged by twenty four years of internecine warfare, would dominate the outlook on the Clinton campaign. Ranging from their hostility to the press to their deep and lingering resentment to the Obama high command, the Clintons themselves were fueling the hostility towards the outsiders. The hostility was present, even as they took on these outsiders. A later aide said “You could feel it. It was “them versus us.” And the Clintons were very much pushing that attitude. The outsiders were taken on to prevent a primary challenge and to unify the Democratic Party. But it was very much a view of them taking a leak out of your tent rather than leaking into your tent.”
The Secretary herself held a tightly guarded circle of aides, with Marcy Wheeler seen as her closest aide. Hillaryland dated to the 1990s, and the longer the history of the Hillary loyalists, the stronger the control they exerted over the campaign. Unlike her husband, Secretary Clinton was far less willing to forgive what she perceived as disloyalty. In many ways, the Clinton inner circle refused to surrender precious control to those they saw as their enemies. To say the least, Secretary Clinton herself was guarded towards the emissaries of the Obama high command and other outsiders.
Decisions on when to announce, how to coordinate with the outside groups indirectly, and assorted other decisions were largely made by the inside command. The Secretary herself would decide March over January, to ease into the campaign instead of a quick announcement, to bless certain PACs, and to resist giving power to other groups to wage political warfare on her behalf. She would muzzle President Bill Clinton, as she hadn’t last time (the last time, she defended him as a wife, arguing that of all the advisors, he had won two Presidential elections, and had more authority than anyone else). But the campaign seemed more like a correction of mistakes made in 2008, not a full change over the 2008 operation.
Time would reveal that the fissures and worldviews of the warring factions in the Clinton campaign would color the 2016 election – and in enormous and profound ways.