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November 17th, 2017

Insight

On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt Bloomberg View

Published Feb. 19, 2016

On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic

Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire trouncing at the hands of Bernie Sanders has set Clintonland afire. The rout set loose a cacophony of complaints from allies about the candidate's campaign strategy and staff.

If she loses the Nevada caucuses this weekend the clamor will grow louder.

It stands to reason that the biggest targets for second-guessing are the most visible and obvious staffers: campaign chief Robby Mook and pollster Joel Benenson.

QuickTake U.S. Campaign Finance

Some of the second-guessers talk about better candidate messaging, or taking on Sanders more effectively, or reassigning staff in key battlegrounds. Yet there's more criticism than solutions and for a good reason: There's not much they can do about the shortcomings of their candidate.

Some of the carping is from people who have personal scores to settle. Take Mark Penn, the top strategist in Clinton's ill-fated 2008 campaign. He is putting out the word that he regularly talks about the campaign with former President Bill Clinton, who had started criticizing this year's staffers even before the New Hampshire votes were tallied. Penn was taken to the cleaners in 2008 by the team representing Senator Barack Obama, and eventually dumped.

But there are other second-guessers, with various motives and perspectives. They include:

The ex-president and some of his allies. This gets complicated. No politician is closer to the Clintons than Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. He is high on Mook, who ran his gubernatorial campaign. Bill Clinton isn't, and his political instincts are the stuff of legend, but he often wears blinders when it comes to analyzing his wife's performance. This group talks about recruiting veterans from old Clinton wars; Ron Klain, a former staff chief to two vice presidents, has recently been mentioned.

Hillary Clinton aides like Huma Abedin, officially the deputy campaign manager but perhaps the candidate's closest confidant, and Cheryl Mills, another longtime adviser. The most equal of equals is the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, who, insiders say, forcefully offers political advice despite a lack of professional political experience.

The super PACs. Guy Cecil, a longtime Clinton adviser and top Democratic strategist, runs the Super PAC Priorities USA Action. A top strategist is Paul Begala, who along with James Carville was the architect of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential victory. They steer clear of the campaign, as the law requires, but deal with donors and politicians. More problematic is another pro-Clinton Super PAC, Correct the Record. That's the research and response group run by David Brock, a onetime Clinton-hating right winger turned Clinton cheerleader.

The donors. Whether from Hollywood, trial lawyers' associations or Wall Street, fat cats want one thing: a return on investment, namely winning. Clinton donors are not a happy lot after New Hampshire, and if the inevitability of a Clinton victory disappears so will some of the money.

It's easier for Clinton partisans to blame staffers than to acknowledge their candidate's flaws. She's failed to make the emotional connection to voters that any successful politician needs; she represents gradualism in an agitated time. She will continue to have a problem with young voters however often she pals around with Katy Perry.

A little more transparency could help. I used to believe that the controversy over her private email server at the State Department caused most of the decline in her favorability ratings.

Now, though, the huge speaking fees she received from big Wall Street firms appear to be the bigger problem. People know that the Clintons are wealthy. So why did they need to take hundreds of thousands of dollars to pal around with moneyed interests? That's harder to explain than email.

The best answer to Clinton's political problems is patience. After a tough slog, she's still better positioned than Sanders to be nominated in Philadelphia this summer. Republican presidential candidates have plenty of personal and political flaws, too. But in the Hillary constellation, patience is in short supply.


Previously:
02/09/15: Questions for Bernie Sanders' establishment guy
02/03/15: From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire
02/01/15: Bush's journey from front-runner to straggler
01/27/15: Another election, more phony promises on taxes
01/19/15: How Cruz supporters differ from Trump fans
12/23/15: Why Trump and Cruz aren't Forbes or Cain
12/21/15: Speaker Ryan sails through the easy part
11/25/15: As the GOP candidates emerge Hillary's weaknesses will be revealed
11/05/15: OK, candidates: Ask the questions yourselves. Seriously
10/28/15: Imagine an endgame of Cruz vs. Rubio
10/26/15:Ted Cruz has a Ben Carson problem in Iowa
10/20/15: Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook?
10/20/15: If only Trey Gowdy could meet with Sam Ervin
10/13/15: Voters don't like revisiting the trials and tribulations of Clintonland --- but that doesn't mean Hillary can't win
09/23/15: Why Jimmy Carter couldn't win the South today
09/17/15: Gov. John Kasich's standout record in Ohio
09/03/15: Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

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Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

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