A stash of internal memos and emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Tuesday exposed a toxic mix of indecision and infighting that destroyed her chances of winning the White House.
The 26 documents, which are posted online and are to be published in the Atlantic magazine, suggest Ms Clinton sabotaged her chances by failing to face up to tough decisions and act — even while she was campaigning on the slogan of “Ready to lead on Day One.” They also suggest the Clinton campaign struggled to come up with a coherent strategy against Barack Obama, even when she was the undisputed front runner.
Mark Penn, Ms Clinton’s chief strategist, repeatedly pushed for her to attack Mr. Obama. “His roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited,” Mr. Penn writes in a March 2007 memo. “Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programmes, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t.” In the same memo, Mr. Penn writes: “The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun.”
Mr. Penn pushed for Ms Clinton to emphasize her toughness. In a December 2006 memo laying out his launch strategy, he advised her to use Margaret Thatcher as a role model, mentioning with approval the former British Prime Minister’s reputation as the Iron Lady.
“Regardless of the sex of the candidates, most Americans in essence see the president as the “father” of the country. They do not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world. But there is a yearning for a kind of tough single parent.”
But Ms Clinton did not sign on to a tough campaign, or to a more negative strategy against Mr. Obama, until late February. By that point, she had suffered 12 consecutive primary defeats. Even then, Ms Clinton could not decide whether to air the “3am” ads touting her fitness to deal with a national security crisis in the White House. According to the Atlantic, it was Bill Clinton who finally issued the order to run the attack ads.
In December 2007, Ms Clinton demanded her campaign go on the attack after learning that she was trailing Mr. Obama in Iowa. Within four minutes, according to the email trail in the Atlantic, her press operation decided to attack Mr. Obama for overweening ambition on the basis of a comment he made as a five-year-old. The over-the-top attack backfired on Ms Clinton.
That mindset of paralysis alternated with too-hasty decisions extended to other crucial areas of the campaign, including fundraising and delegate-counting. Key figures, such as Harold Ickes, expressed alarm that Ms Clinton, who finished her campaign with more than $20 million in debt, would run out of money by February. Mr. Ickes said the campaign needed to keep $25 million in reserve. His advice was not acted on.
Clinton staffer Philippe Reines suggested in a February 25 memo that the campaign should raise the issue of the disputed Florida and Michigan primaries, which could provide enough delegates to win the nomination. But the campaign did not act until late May.
The sheer quantity of email and memos produced by the campaign — the Atlantic claimed to have obtained hundreds — suggests a bureaucracy mired in its own infighting. By March, Ms Clinton’s friends were appalled at the bickering. “This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable, and unacceptable,” the Clintons’ lawyer, Robert Barnett, wrote. “It must stop.”
But the campaign clung to its last shreds of hope. The final memo from Mr. Penn in June lays out an argument to super delegates, or senior and elected Democratic officials, for supporting Ms Clinton over Mr. Obama