I haven't written anything either about Obama's massive victories in Virginia, Maryland, and DC or about the new spate of stories about Clinton's campaign, since I haven't wanted to seem as though I was piling on. But the latter, especially, seem to me to raise pretty serious questions about Clinton's candidacy.
Its initial rationale, as best I could tell, was that Clinton was inevitable. That idea has presumably gone glimmering. Next, we got the claim that Clinton was the candidate with "35 years of experience making change"; the one who was "ready to lead on day one".
Those 35 years of experience have always been a bit murky to me. Hillary Clinton's seven years in the Senate have been pretty undistinguished. Fifteen earlier years were spent working full-time as a corporate lawyer, and while Clinton served on various worthy boards and panels during that period, and by all accounts did quite well on them, it's hard to see how much time she could have spent on them while also having a full-time job. Eight were spent being first lady, during which time her major undertaking was the catastrophic attempt to get health care reform passed. And while I do give her full credit for the two years she spent working for the Children's Defense Fund, and the Watergate Committee, I've always been a little puzzled by the idea that I should vote for Clinton because of her experience.
The one thing that argued for real managerial skill was the fact that Clinton seemed to be running a pretty good campaign. That idea seems to me to have been destroyed over the past few days. Even if every single word in every single story about the campaign is due to disgruntled staffers being unfair and petulant, you'd still have to ask questions like: how did a campaign that raised over $115 million in 2007 burn through all that money with only a third place showing in Iowa to show for it? Why did the campaign not plan for the possibility that they would not wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday? Why did they have no resources, and practically no field campaign, in place in any of the February caucus states? (Marc Ambinder's answer: "a lack of money". Again: how could that have happened given how much money they raised?) These are major unforced errors.
The stories coming out of the Clinton campaign provide an explanation for this, and it's not pretty.
Michelle Cottle in TNR on Patty Solis Doyle, Clinton's now ex-campaign manager:
"Among the most devout members of Hillaryland, Solis Doyle is cheered by supporters as an "unconventional" choice for campaign manager. Detractors are less kind, noting that even some of Hillary's most trusted advisers have long questioned Solis Doyle's readiness for the job. Clinton money man Terry McAuliffe is said to have expressed reservations early on, including in a conversation with the Clintons during the couple's January 2006 trip to the Dominican Republic, according to someone there with the group. (McAuliffe denies this.) Similarly, several weeks before the campaign's official launch, a handful of the most senior Hillarylanders met with the senator to express eleventh-hour doubts about Solis Doyle, says someone Hillary spoke with after the meeting.
No one denies that Solis Doyle's authority stems less from her expertise or political savvy (though defenders insist she has an abundance of both) than from her bond with Hillary. The result, say critics, is a toxic blend of insecurity (about her abilities) and arrogance (about her proximity to the boss). As they tell it, an overwhelmed Solis Doyle has become increasingly temperamental--playing favorites and abusing her relationship with Hillary to control information flow and enhance her own power. "It's become 'The Patti Show,'" snipes a former member of the Clinton White House who remains close to both Clintons. Solis Doyle is said to allow unaddressed issues to pile up, failing to do things like return calls to surrogates in need of direction or contributors in need of stroking. "People are constantly complaining to the senator and other members of the campaign family that their calls aren't being returned," notes one observer who often hears from such people. At the same time, over the course of her management career, Solis Doyle has developed a reputation for mucking around in the weeds, insisting upon signing off on even low-level decisions, such as where to hold a minor event and whether bagels or donuts should be served. (That's not a hypothetical.) She is brutal to staffers who try to circumvent her with a request, and she is not shy about reminding others of her position: When dispatched to Iowa headquarters in the final month, Solis Doyle demanded that in preparation for her arrival walls be erected around the section of the giant bullpen where she would be working."
Or, in short, the boss from hell. How did she end up running a campaign? Josh Greene, in the Atlantic, says that the answer is: because she was loyal, and Clinton valued loyalty more than competence. When this excerpt starts, Greene is talking about her work for Clinton's 2006 reelection campaign:
"Here, too, Solis Doyle was disastrous; her lack of skill in areas other than playing the loyal heavy began to show. The first public sign of this came just after Clinton’s reelection to the Senate. Even though Clinton had faced no serious opponent, it turned out that Solis Doyle, as campaign manager, had burned through more than $30 million. As this New York Times story makes clear, the donor base was incensed. Toward the end of the Senate campaign, Solis Doyle did her best to bolster the impression of the inevitability of Hillary’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate, spreading word that Clinton’s Senate reelection fund-raising had gone so exceptionally well that $40 million to $50 million would be left after Election Day to transfer to the incipient presidential campaign. But this turned out to be a wild exaggeration—and Solis Doyle must have known it was. Disclosure filings revealed a paltry $10 million in cash on hand; far from conveying Hillary’s inevitability, this had precisely the opposite effect, encouraging, rather than frightening off, potential challengers.
Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.
The extended denouement that began after the Iowa caucuses and finally culminated with Sunday’s departure reinforces this supposition. By all accounts, Solis Doyle’s firing became imminent after the first loss, as the extent of the damage sank in. (My colleague Marc Ambinder has provided plentiful detail on this here and here.) She’d been dispatched to Iowa to oversee operations in the final weeks before the caucuses, and Clinton still finished third. She’d been placed in charge of the campaign’s relationship with John Kerry and hoped to get an endorsement, but he’d chosen to back Obama. And of course, the campaign had hemorrhaged money, which Solis Doyle had managed to conceal. The ax was expected to fall the day after New Hampshire (Solis Doyle opted not to depart on her own after Iowa), but it didn’t happen until weeks afterward because Clinton put off making the crucial decision—just as her alter ego was often charged with doing. (The best blow-by-blow account is this prescient New Republic piece by Michelle Cottle that was read avidly inside the campaign because it’s so accurate.) Even then, Solis Doyle’s departure took a near-mutiny to bring about. Williams and Lieberman left their jobs last week; this finally seemed to have influenced Clinton to oust Solis Doyle."
Valuing loyalty over competence is a terrible trait in a manager. But so are other things that come through in this piece: putting off decisions that obviously need to be made, for instance, and letting personnel problems fester rather than resolving them, and having subordinates who "protect" you from bad news that you really need to know. But the one that particularly struck me -- which is why I quoted Greene at such length -- was this: In 2006, Solis Doyle first burned through an extraordinary amount of money in 2006 -- the NYT story Greene quotes says that the campaign spent "$27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides." She then demonstrably lied about the campaign's financial situation in ways that angered Clinton's base of donors. Various Clinton insiders, including (according to Greene) Terry McAuliffe and Maggie Williams -- tried to get her fired. And yet Clinton hired her to manage her Presidential campaign.
Rewarding incompetent people because they are loyal is bad. But rewarding incompetent people who lie to the public and to your donors is worse. Lying to the public is both wrong and stupid: it brings your name into disrepute, and that's not good for anyone, least of all a politician. Lying to your donors is also wrong and stupid: wrong, since you presumably ought to feel some loyalty towards the people who have donated to your campaign, and stupid because they are the last people on earth whose trust you should abuse. Solis Doyle's performance in 2006 should have meant that she was not hired for any position of responsibility ever again. Instead, Hillary Clinton made her campaign manager.
That, to me, is astonishing. And not in a good way.
Back in 2003, Brad DeLong wrote:
"My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly."
He later decided that he had been unfair: according to "her people", "she has done an awful lot more over the past fifteen years, and done almost all of it very successfully." I have never really known what that "awful lot more" was, so I've never felt competent to judge what Hillary Clinton's people say. But based on her campaign, I think I'm sticking with DeLong's original judgment.