Shattered Provides Insight Into How Clinton Doomed Her Campaign Over The Email Scandal

Chris Cillizza recently wrote about  a new study by a consortium of pollsters which showed how damaging the email scandal was to Hillary Clinton. While overall his article is worth reading, I am puzzled by the title and wonder if perhaps someone else had written it: Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized. Yes, the email problem was a major reason for Clinton’s defeat, although if this didn’t exist I suspect that many other things in Clinton’s history, and flaws in her character, would have served a similar role in destroying her campaign. However, contrary to the title, many realized how damaging this could be to Clinton from the start. For example, back in March of 2015 I had a post entitled Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016. Initially other liberal bloggers also expressed concern at the time, but unfortunately partisanship replaced reason for many over the subsequent months. Many partisan Democrats would argue with my posts, claiming that Clinton had done anything wrong and denying that it would have any effect on the election. In retrospect, it is clear that my many warnings as to how dangerous it would be to nominate Hillary Clinton turned out to be correct.

Clinton has blamed the press, along with others such as Russia and James Comey, for her loss. Cillizza countered the argument that the media was responsible for dwelling on the email scandal:

This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election.

I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.

After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.

Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.

The roots of the problem can be seen in Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign. My most recent post on excerpts from the book showed how Clinton had devised the strategy of blaming others for her defeat within twenty-four hours of her election loss. Chapter 4 of the book dealt with the roots of the scandal and how Clinton was doomed by her own character flaws. This could be seen with her similar reaction to losing in 2008:

In the summer of 2008, years before her private e-mail server became a campaign issue, Hillary learned about the power of digital snooping. At the time, she was conducting an autopsy of her failed bid against Barack Obama, and she wanted an honest accounting of what had gone wrong. So she instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the messages sent and received by top staffers.

She believed her campaign had failed her—not the other way around—and she wanted “to see who was talking to who, who was leaking to who,” said a source familiar with the operation. Her political director, Guy Cecil, had talked with members of the media from his campaign account. Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, was a tyrant. And far too many of her minions had fought for turf and status rather than votes.

Prizing loyalty most among human traits, Hillary was unsettled by these acts of betrayal. So as she dragged staffers into meetings in Washington to assess what had gone wrong, disloyalty and dysfunction were seldom far from her mind. The men and women she met with, apparently unaware that she had access to their e-mails, were amazed that a woman who had been traveling the country in pursuit of the presidency had such a detailed grasp of the machinations at the campaign’s command center in the Washington suburbs.

Having used other’s email against them, Clinton did not want to risk that her own emails could be reviewed. While on one level this was understandable, it was also a clear violation of the rules for cabinet officials when Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009. When this scandal broke, she did not realize what a threat it would be to her candidacy. When it did become a problem, she once again placed the blame on others, as opposed to taking responsibility for her own actions:

While Hillary spent a lot of time calculating risks, she was often a terrible judge of how her actions could backfire and turn into full-blown scandals. When news of her private e-mail server first surfaced in the New York Times on March 2, 2015, she looked at it as the campaign’s first wave of “choppy waters” rather than the tsunami that it would become.

It’s not that she failed to understand that more negative press was on its way, or that she might have a legal problem on her hands. But her response, and that of her team, reflected an epic underestimation of an existential threat to her candidacy. At times, under the stress of an unrelenting feeding frenzy of reporters, Republican lawmakers, and federal investigators, Hillary and her advisers would lose faith in one another’s judgment and competence. The candidate would blame her staff for failing to contain the damage, and, privately, they would fault her for failing to take the steps necessary to do that…

Of course, Hillary should have been angry with herself. She’d taken actions that could have prevented her records from becoming public during a presidential run, and the maneuver had backfired badly. But Hillary instead turned her fury on her consultants and campaign aides, blaming them for a failure to focus the media on her platform. In her ear the whole time, spurring her on to cast blame on others and never admit to anything, was her husband. Neither Clinton could accept the simple fact that Hillary had hamstrung her own campaign and dealt the most serious blow to her own presidential aspirations.

That state of denial would become more obvious than ever to her top aides and consultants during a mid-August conference call. Benenson, Grunwald, Margolis, Anzalone, Podesta, Mook, Abedin, and Schwerin were among the small coterie who huddled in Abedin’s mostly bare corner office overlooking the East River at the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters. Hillary and Bill, who rarely visited, joined them by phone.

Hillary’s severe, controlled voice crackled through the line first. It carried the sound of a disappointed teacher or mother delivering a lecture before a whipping. That back end was left to Bill, who lashed out with abandon. Eyes cast downward, stomachs turning—both from the scare tactics and from their own revulsion at being chastised for Hillary’s failures—Hillary’s talented and accomplished team of professionals and loyalists simply took it. There was no arguing with Bill Clinton.

You haven’t buried this thing, the ruddy-cheeked former president rasped. You haven’t figured out how to get Hillary’s core message to the voters. This has been dragging on for months, he thundered, and nothing you’ve done has made a damn bit of difference. Voters want to hear about Hillary’s plans for the economy, and you’re not making that happen. Now, do your damn jobs.

“We got an ass-chewing,” one of the participants recalled months later.

Hillary came back on the line to close the lecture. It was hard to tell what was worse—getting hollered at by Bill or getting scolded by the stern and self-righteous Hillary. Neither was pleasant. You heard him, she admonished. “Get it straight.”

It was an astonishing moment—and one that would stick in the minds of Hillary’s aides for the rest of the campaign—for two reasons. First, Hillary was already inaccessible to most of her own staff, preferring to communicate through Abedin. So, a phone call featuring both Hillary and Bill was a real rarity. But more important, the scapegoating tone and tenor revealed that the Clintons were either living on another planet or at least having emotional and intellectual difficulty coming to terms with the reality that only Hillary was culpable and only Hillary could turn things around.

Hillary’s aides didn’t need to wonder why her economic message wasn’t breaking through. It wasn’t rocket science. She hadn’t told the truth to the public about her e-mails, and she was under federal investigation.

On the ground in Iowa, the e-mail scandal was hurting her ability to build a volunteer organization. “We’re asking someone to give a bunch of their time. All they’re hearing is how untrustworthy she is,” said one campaign official. And it was death among actual caucus-goers. “We saw it in all the research. It was a slow burn. The caucus electorate, any primary electorate, is disproportionately watching cable news. And it was every day for six months.”

Beyond giving caucus-goers pause and hampering her volunteer-recruitment efforts, the scandal appeared to tamp down the willingness of Hillary supporters across the country to lobby friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. “There’s a social cost to supporting Hillary,” one of her aides said. The e-mail issue “made it weird and costly for people to be for her.”

The problem for Clinton was that the scandal wasn’t viewed as an isolated event. It reinforced Clinton’s well-deserved reputation for dishonesty, and seeing herself as above the rules which others must adhere to:

That dynamic played right into the hands of Sanders, who held himself out as an honest change agent and tweaked Hillary here and there on her lack of transparency—a theme that hinted at the e-mail scandal, questions about the Clinton Foundation, and her refusal to release transcripts of the private paid speeches she’d given to Wall Street banks before the campaign. When Hillary had been advised by some allies not to speak to banks before the campaign, one confidant said, her response had been “They’ll hit us on something.”

The e-mail story and the Wall Street speeches illustrated the contrast Bernie was trying to draw with Hillary—he was honest and she was corrupt—and they were giving ever more oxygen to a once-quixotic Sanders campaign…

When voters were asked to describe her with a single word, “liar” was the one most frequently used. A lot of that came from Republicans, but it had a psychic effect on Democrats who had looked at her as the party’s likely nominee.

Over the course of the summer, the confidence of party insiders had been replaced by a degree of paranoia that nearly matched Hillary’s own outsize phobia. She was convinced that leaks of information had helped doom her 2008 campaign. In reality, the leaking and disloyalty were symptoms, not the cause, of the dysfunction in her first run for the White House. As long as she was seen as the prohibitive favorite to win the primary and the election, Democrats would fear being branded traitors or leakers. But if she wasn’t going to be in a position to reward or punish them, they had no reason to worry about whether they were rated as ones or sevens on her loyalty scale. After the 2008 campaign, two of her aides, Kris Balderston and Adrienne Elrod, had toiled to assign loyalty scores to members of Congress, ranging from one for the most loyal to seven for those who had committed the most egregious acts of treachery. Bill Clinton had campaigned against some of the sevens in subsequent primary elections, helping to knock them out of office. The fear of retribution was not lost on the remaining sevens, some of whom rushed to endorse Hillary early in the 2016 cycle.

This time, nothing was coming easy: her campaign was under fire every minute of every day. Worst of all, it was the candidate herself who was responsible for the initial e-mail blunder, and she and her husband were still intractable on the question of when she would apologize, if ever…Hillary had been prescient about external threats to her campaign…But when it came to her own behavior—to the threat she posed to herself—she’d been incapable of gauging its gravity and reluctant to avail herself of the only option for fixing it. Too little, too late, she’d now tried to address it.

Clinton told a long series of lies to try to cover up her violation of the rules and unethical behavior, but they did not save her. It is debatable whether a quick confession of guilt and apology would have changed anything, but by repeatedly lying and giving excuses for her behavior, Clinton helped keep the story alive until November.

This all culminated in James Comey’s letter shortly before the election. The impact of this is debatable as Clinton’s support started dropping before it was released, and if it did hurt Clinton she deserved the blame violating the rules and creating the need for the FBI investigation of her actions. At the time Barack Obama was publicly supporting her out of party loyalty, but privately he had a different attitude:

Obama had been briefed on the Comey statement, seemingly just the latest turn in an unfolding story he’d kept up with from the Oval Office. And, of course, he’d been asked about the e-mail issue more times than he would have liked. Publicly, he toed the company line and said he knew Hillary wouldn’t intentionally mishandle information—and he believed that. But inside the secluded confines of the West Wing, he confided his true feelings. He couldn’t understand what possessed Hillary to set up the private e-mail server, and her handling of the scandal—obfuscate, deny, and evade—amounted to political malpractice. He wanted his friend to win, and yet she was exhibiting, again, some of the very qualities that had helped him defeat her in 2008. It was a classic unforced Clinton error, and he couldn’t believe that she and the people around her had let it happen. When would they learn?

He said nothing of this to Hillary. When he scratched his head or rolled his eyes, he did it in the privacy of the West Wing.

I have previously posted excerpts from Shattered  here,  here,  here, here, and here and have discussed why Clinton lost in multiple additional posts. Also see the excerpt I have posted from Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus by Matt Taibbi on Hillary Clinton, which provides further insight into why Hillary Clinton should not have run for president in 2016 in light of the manner in which she used her political influence in an unethical manner to make money.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment