Clinton’s Error

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On the whole issue of whether or not Hillary Clinton’s run a bad campaign, I think it’s necessary to draw some distinctions. I think the Obama campaign made a variety of errors during 2007, while Clinton’s campaign made very few. What’s more, Clinton’s team did a great job of reading the issue landscape well and developing smart policies that were well-suited to the political and objective circumstances. She did what I thought was a surprisingly good job of largely defusing the war issue in the minds of the voters. What’s more, they made an excellent recovery after losing Iowa. Consequently, they woke up on the morning of February 6, 2008 in pretty good position — up in delegates, up in national polls.

Then things fell apart. The campaign made two weird decisions. First, they essentially decide to throw ten primaries and caucuses in a row and that as part of the throwing strategy they were going to repeatedly insult the residents of the states in question. Second, they decided to respond to losses with panicky moves — amping up the decibel level on their attacks, shifting the message, etc. These both struck me as mistakes independently, but they’ve truly made for a bizarre combination.

Thus, to add it all up we need to consider different possible interpretations of “Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” It’s a big operation, a lot of people work there, and as best anyone can tell most of them have done an excellent job. The policy people have mostly come up with excellent policies and the communications people who worked with them have done an excellent job of rolling those policies out, providing surrogates, etc. The new media people have done a good job of handling an objectively difficult situation. Her speechwriters haven’t produced any classics that’ll go into collected volumes, but the candidate’s not well-suited to soaring oratory and the speechwriters have done good work producing speeches that work well for her. One could go on like this. Lots and lots of people involved with the campaign, and the vast majority seems to have done a very good job. But a few key strategy architects have made a couple of bad mistakes, and the candidate herself has chosen poorly in terms of whose advise to take. It appears likely that those mistakes will be fatal, but that shouldn’t cast aspersions on all the other good work that lots of people have done over the past 18 months (or more).