Hillary Clinton was a garbage candidate with a dumpster fire of a campaign.
Forgive the spoiler, but this sentence seems to be the big take-away for many who have read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.
That statement over-simplifies the book by a few measures, glossing over the reporting Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes executed so diligently. But it also describes the feeling many — especially Republicans and conservatives — had after putting the book down.
The problem? That’s the same feeling they had when they picked the book up. This means they learned nothing from the lesson-rich re-telling of Campaign 2016.
As now-President Donald Trump and his administration slog through media firestorms, failed legislative initiatives, and a general lack of focus, it becomes tempting for Republicans to look back gleefully on Clinton’s failure. After recoiling at her role in her husband’s administration in the 1990s and stewing over her carbetbagging her way to a New York Senate seat in the early 2000s, watching Clinton fail in 2008 and again in 2016 provides a certain generation of center-right activists with a healthy dose of schadenfreude.
Rehashing the tone-deaf and overly analytical Clinton campaign’s shocking loss feeds that feeling. A healthy dose of schadenfreude, though, isn’t necessarily healthy.
The Clinton campaign makes for compelling reading because it was a tragedy, in the truest sense: The protagonist’s own flaws led to her downfall. Shattered points out that the campaign never articulated an over-arching reason why Hillary Clinton wanted to be President. Speech writing took a village, with a half dozen or more people working on putting words into Clinton’s mouth on a regular basis. When negative news threatened to dominate the campaign, Clinton looked to advisers to create messages which would get the operation back on track rather than providing leadership on the campaign’s big ideas. Heavy reliance on analytics led to avoidable tactical mistakes.
The criticisms are fair. Moreover, they are central to understanding why the election ended as it did.
But this story has happened before. Change the characters, and that plot looks a lot like other flawed, failed candidacies. Campaign staffers who toiled for Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry, or Bob Dole could all talk about working tirelessly for a candidate who, ultimately, couldn’t connect with enough voters to win. The same paradigm plays out countless times each election cycle in contests ranging from Congressional or Senate seats down to elementary school class presidents.
For those giddily reliving Clinton’s pratfalls, objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear.
The numbers tell you the GOP has the votes in Congress to pass whatever they like, and a President probably willing to sign just about any bill they put in front of him.
Yet the Republicans have had trouble articulating a clear, unifying vision for governance, too.
The lack of direction has bogged down much policy movement and made it difficult to keep even their own party unified. Their attempt to reform health policy hovers in legislative limbo. Promised tax reform and infrastructure initiatives have yet to see the light of day, while news programs speculate about possible connections between Trump staff and Russia.
The immediate casualty has been short-term popular support — both for President Trump and Republicans in Congress — and a lost opportunity to seize policy narratives that were written by President Barack Obama for eight years.
November 2018 creeps closer each day, too.
To avoid Clinton’s fate, Republican leaders must develop and advocate for policies which extend from a central theme, or a “big idea” — a way for any GOP official to answer the question, “Why is America better off with you in power?” For those who would lead, it simply isn’t enough to bask in Clinton’s failure to answer this question.
There are important lessons to take from Hillary Clinton’s “doomed” campaign. If Republicans and center-right activists read Shattered only to chuckle over Clinton’s bungled opportunity, they risk fumbling away their own moment, too.