“Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign”: a brief review (w/spoilers)

| April 22, 2017

In architecting a new system,
all the important mistakes are made in the first day.
— Spinrad (1998)

This book is destined to be a classic in American political literature. As has been reported already, the authors — Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes — made an early arrangement with dozens of sources inside and outside the Clinton presidential campaign that the sources would be used anonymously and that the information gathered would not become public until long after the election.

The result is a gripping, intimate account of the 2015-2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady (1993-2000), former failed US Presidential candidate (2007-2008), and former US Secretary of State (2008-2012). At the start of 2015, Clinton was not only largely considered the inevitable Democratic candidate for President for the 2016 election, she was largely considered the inevitable victor as well. And once it was clear that Donald Trump would secure the GOP nomination, the conventional wisdom was that this would be a cakewalk for Clinton.

Well, we all know how that turned out. The question is: why?

Allen & Parnes go a long ways to answering that question, or at least answering why Clinton lost. Without rehashing all the details — you really should read the book — here are three main themes that the authors put forth:

First, Clinton struggled the entire time to articulate why she should be President. Back during the 1980 election, Ted Kennedy was challenging Pres. Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. During a TV interview, Roger Mudd of CBS News asked Kennedy why he wanted to be president. Kennedy tried and failed to come up with a coherent answer. Kennedy — considered a easy favorite to wrest the nomination from Carter — never really recovered. While Clinton never had a public moment like that, Allen & Parnes show how that same uncertainty plagued Clinton and her staff all through the campaign. By contrast, the authors explain, both Bernie Sanders (during the primaries) and Donald Trump provided clear messages about the change they represented.

Second, Clinton’s campaign operations comes across as something out of Game of Thrones. There were major factions competing for access to and influence over Clinton, often seeking to undermine and withhold information (and even resources) from each other. The two major individuals butting heads were John Podesta — a long-time pol who was Bill Clinton’s WH Chief of Staff and years later a special counselor to Barack Obama in his White House — and Robby Mook — a young Turk (30 years younger than Podesta) with an undying faith in Moneyball-type political analytics. But there were other factions, too, and not a lot of people who could get Clinton’s ear on a regular basis. This may be typical of a Presidential campaign, but Allen & Parnes contrast it several times with the “no-drama” Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Third, in spite of a few lonely voices (including Bill Clinton’s), the Clinton campaign assumed it could win with a coalition of minorities and college-educated whites and so focused on that. Bill Clinton and many state Democratic operatives kept pushing for campaign visits and efforts among white working-class voters, but Mook saw that as a waste of resources and not fitting into his model. While there were some post-convention scares in the polls, almost everyone on the Clinton campaign thought they had this sewn up — until early returns from Florida started coming in on Election Night:

No, [Steve] Schale explained, Trump’s numbers [in Florida] weren’t just big, they were unreal. In rural Polk County, smack-dab in the center of the state, Hillary would collect 3,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012 — but Trump would add more than 25,000 to Mitt Romney’s total. In Pasco County, a swath of suburbs north of Tampa-St. Petersburg, Trump outran Romney by 30,000 votes. . . .

All over the state, the returns looked the same. Schale and [Craig] Smith knew there just weren’t enough votes left in Democratic territory to offset the Trump surge.

Even before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were called by the networks for Trump, it became clear that Mook’s analytic model had failed and that Clinton had lost, leading to her concession call to Donald Trump at 2:40 am ET.

I do have some quibbles with the authors. While they pull few punches about how Clinton lied about the nature of the contents of her private e-mail server — and how that damaged her in the election — they inexplicably ignore (except for some very minor references) the issue of the Clinton Foundation, and in particular the tremendous money coming into the foundation from both companies and foreign governments while Clinton was SecState and at a time when many of those same entities had business before the US State Department. That was as much the basis for Trump’s refrain of ‘Crooked Hillary’ as was the e-mail server.

They also buy pretty much uncritically the Left’s party line about Russia trying to “hack” the election, even though the exposure of Podesta’s e-mails was via a phishing attack that anyone could have set up (especially in light of the recently dumping of NSA hacking tools that can disguise hacking attempts as coming from other ‘state’ entities). Likewise, no mention is made at all of the DNC’s refusal to let the FBI investigate any such ‘hacking’ attempts. These omissions are relevant in that Allen & Parnes put forth the argument that the Wikileaks release of DNC e-mails (via Podesta’s account) did, in fact, have an impact on the election results, something that others — including the head of the NSA — dispute.

Finally, Allen & Parnes pretty much treat all Republicans as the bad guys and drag in smears like “white supremacists” voting for Trump. On one level, I have no real problem with that, since it makes their critiques of the Clinton campaign carry all that much more weight. On the other hand, honest-to-goodness “white supremacists” in the US number in the mere thousands or, at most, tens of thousands. They don’t explain why Trump won 63 million individual votes and 306 electoral votes, and neither do Allen & Parnes, at least not completely.

Quibbles aside — and I do consider them quibbles — this is an outstanding work of modern political science. It is a must-read, particularly for anyone following US politics.


There were many reports after the election of Clinton throwing a massive tantrum in the hotel room after facing her loss. Allen & Parnes tells a completely different story, and I’m inclined to believe them.

That’s it. What, you thought I was going to say “Trump wins” or something? OK: Trump wins.

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Category: 2016 Election, Books, Clinton E-mails, Clinton Foundation, Hillary, Main, Obama Administration, Trump Administration, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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