Hillary’s paranoid rage and the campaign’s infighting made a mockery of the slogan “Stronger Together”
Behind the scenes of a campaign with the slogan “Stronger Together” was an all-star team of political operatives fighting viciously with one another to curry favor with a prideful political candidate who placed the blame for her failures squarely on the shoulders of her employees. This is the picture of the 2016 Clinton campaign painted by a series of anonymous interviews with Clinton aides and campaign staffers published in the book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. Although very sympathetic to Clinton and containing many willful distortions of reality, the book provides new insight and helps pad out information about the inner workings of the campaign.
Not satisfied with being First Lady of the United States, Secretary of State, and a leading figure of the international neoliberal left, Hillary Clinton was dead set on winning the presidency after suffering a bitter defeat in the 2008 primaries to Barack Obama. Convinced that her campaign had been sabotaged by acts of betrayal, Clinton set out to make her enemies within the Democratic Party afraid of her again.
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.1
At the same time her aides were creating “loyalty scores”, Clinton, “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.2 ’” After personally reading the email correspondence of her staffers, she called them into interviews for the 2016 campaign, where she confronted them with some of the revelations.
Robby Mook sabotages Ready for Hillary
While the Clintons and their aides worked to root out disloyalty, Hillary turned to the question of who she wanted to run her 2016 campaign. For this position, one candidate stood out above the rest, a young rising star by the name of Robby Mook. In 2010, Mook had flown to Las Vegas at the behest of New York representative Steve Israel to discuss how to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) after the Democrats suffered serious blows in the midterm elections. At the dinner, Israel asked Mook what the DCCC should do to prepare for 2012.
Unflinchingly, Mook responded with the words of a professional political assassin. ‘Clean house,’ he said. It was a classic high-end Washington power move. Fire everyone. Force people to reapply for their jobs. Those who remain know to whom they owe their allegiance. And use the new openings to bring in loyalists.3
Mook’s obsession with loyalty and his passion for data driven analytics impressed Hillary who tapped him for the role of campaign manager in 2014. Not long after joining, Mook moved against the first perceived threat to his authority, the cultish Clinton worshippers in the Ready for Hillary fundraising organization.
The brainchild of a part-time reserve police officer named Adam Parkhomenko, Ready for Hillary was a startup fundraising initiative staffed mainly by people with a borderline unhealthy obsession with Clinton. Parkhomenko had been a die-hard Hillary supporter since 2003, when as a 17-year-old he launched a website called VoteHillary.org in an attempt to convince her to run in the 2004 primaries. After flying to Iowa to sell Vote Hillary buttons outside of the $100 per plate Jefferson-Jackson dinner at which Hillary was the keynote speaker, Parkhomenko caught the attention of Hillary herself, who was impressed by his devotion. With Hillary’s help he soon found a role as the assistant to Clintonite Patti Solis Doyle who was tapped to run Clinton’s 2008 campaign. As an assistant to Solis Doyle, Parkhomenko witnessed the bitter and toxic infighting that dominated her 2008 campaign, and experienced firsthand the mercurial nature of Hillary herself.
After losing a series of primary battles to Obama, Clinton became convinced that her failures were due in large part to Solis Doyle’s refusal to run attack ads. By December 2007, Clinton finally lost her patience with Solis Doyle, and “exploded” at her during a conference call, firing her later that day. While Clinton dispensed verbal abuse, the infighting between staffers reached a boiling point. The day after Solis Doyle was fired, campaign deputy spokesperson Phil Singer, “blew up…and screamed obscenities at his boss before throwing open the door to direct his ire at the campaign’s policy director, Neera Tanden, an ally of Solis Doyle. ‘Fuck you and the whole fucking cabal!’ he shouted, according to several Clinton staffers. In the end, he climbed onto a chair and screamed at the entire staff before storming out.” After Solis Doyle’s removal, Parkhomenko was without protection from the campaign’s cutthroat jockeying and was soon forced out.
Oddly enough, the experience seems to have in no way dampened Parkhomenko’s feverish devotion to Hillary, and soon after being kicked off the campaign began work on the Ready for Hillary (RFH) PAC, managing to compile a massive donor list along with connections to high level donors like Warren Buffet. The initiative and unflinching loyalty of Parkhomenko again caught the attention of Hillary in 2014, who soon demanded that Mook bring RFH personnel into her campaign. On Hillary’s orders, Mook gave word to Parkhomenko that he and his staff were to be brought onto the campaign, and the people at RFH were “ecstatic”. Parkhomenko was under the impression that both he and his wife were to receive jobs, and he moved with his wife and kid to Brooklyn in anticipation.
Of course, despite Hillary’s clear desire to give the personnel at RFH high level positions, Mook had other plans for RFH. Mook, who had no intention of sharing power with the likes of Parkhomenko, simply extracted the group’s donor list and then delayed on following up with the job offers until RFH had to lay off much of its staff due to lack of funds. Most RFH personnel, including Parkhomenko’s wife, would never end up getting a role on the campaign, the ones that did were consigned to irrelevant positions within the campaign, with Parkhomenko given the meaningless role of “grassroots engagement director”, where he languished feeling, “underutilized” and “miserable”. “As one Democratic insider familiar with Mook’s thinking put it, ‘When you’re done with a condom, you throw it out.’”4
After crushing Parkhomenko and his team, Mook tried unsuccessfully to limit the power of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s closest advisor and the “Royal Guard” of Hillaryland. Abedin’s influence would prove too powerful even for Mook, and he would eventually back off. Mook would also go on to clash with chief communications officer Jennifer Palmieri and campaign chairman John Podesta.
Podesta, whose temper had earned him the alter-ego nickname ‘Skippy’ during Bill Clinton’s presidency, would rant and call Mook names—and, to his credit, he did it to Mook’s face…Mook thought Podesta was a dick.
Tensions between Podesta and Mook grew so bad that at a senior staff retreat Podesta remarked in front of the campaign’s entire leadership team including Mook that, “Robby is passive-aggressive. I’m merely aggressive.”5
By making enemies with likes of Podesta and Palmieri, Mook made himself vulnerable, and when Hillary suffered a surprise defeat to Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primary, Mook’s position in the campaign was suddenly highly precarious.
Mook knew he was on the firing line and desperately tried to salvage his job. He turned to chief administrative officer Charlie Baker, Podesta, and Minyon Moore, a veteran political organizer and close Hillary confidante, for help—perhaps forgetting that he’d tried to minimize their influence earlier in the campaign. He even made it clear to other that he was willing to ‘get rid of’ [Marlon] Marshall, his close friend and top lieutenant, ‘in order to save his own skin,’ as one colleague put it. 6
Luckily for Mook, although Clinton was interested in replacing him after the Michigan debacle, she didn’t want the bad press coverage that might be associated with a major campaign shakeup, instead focusing her ire on Joel Benenson, the campaign’s chief consultant, moving him to a powerless position.
Clinton goes "ripshit", blames everyone but herself
While her staffers declared open war on one another, Hillary stumbled into one foible after another. After making $22 million giving a series of politically inadvisable speeches to financial institutions, she became embroiled in a farcical scandal involving her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. After the House Benghazi Committee discovered that she had routed State Department emails through a private server in probable violation of government regulations created to protect classified information, the committee ordered Clinton to hand over her emails from the private server. In turn, Clinton concocted a half-baked plan to separate emails of a private nature from emails connected to her official duties, ordering her aides to destroy the former and hand over the latter. In the end the duplicity would be discovered, and would only fan the flames of the scandal which plagued her all the way to election day.
Of course, the Clintons didn’t see the email scandal as being Hillary’s fault, and as the story lingered and grew in intensity, Hillary lashed out at her staffers, blaming them for mishandling the scandal. During an August 2015 conference call, the Clintons berated their staff.
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…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.’7
Hillary’s temper flared numerous times on the campaign trail. After the Michigan loss, Hillary reportedly went “ripshit”, flaming one of her top aides in front of a crowd of staffers during debate preparations, and giving in-person and over the phone browbeatings to much of her campaign team. “‘She was visibly, unflinchingly pissed off at us as a group,’ said one aide.”
Altogether, Hillary’s frequent rage at her employees and the ruthless warring between campaign staffers made a mockery of the “stronger together” slogan, more evidence of the absurd differences between image and reality in electoral politics.