It took much longer than the pundits tried to make us believe, but eventually it happened: Hillary Clinton’s run for presidency went from all-but-certain to bitter next-morning hangover.

So it’s not surprising that historians are at this point trying to unveil and understand the details of the slow process that transformed the front-runner race of what would be the first woman to be an American president.

The Atlantic has a very good analysis, going beyond the standard model (not prepared for a lengthy fight; insufficient delegate operation; staff feuded and bickered) and covering since the early 2003 days, before the Senate campaign. Based on hundreds of memos and emails from the Clinton staff, it is possible to draw a picture of the complexities involved in running a presidential campaign.

Many issues come up, such as the late attention given to the web (“We are testing Web ads now. We are behind but there is still time.”). Most importantly, Clinton’s advisers ignored reality and reinforced biases:

“It is a vast right and left wing conspiracy. Listening to Brit Hume say that Obama is surging while Hillary failed to do X is almost comical and certainly transparent. The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun, and a third party would come in then anyway.” (from Penn’s memo)

The article also compares the division between two different strategies, and how virtually every adviser assumed the primaries would be over by the Super Tuesday:

Invariably, Penn and Bill Clinton pressed for aggressive confrontation to tear Obama down, while senior advisers like Harold Ickes, Patti Solis Doyle, Mandy Grunwald, and Howard Wolfson counseled restraint and an emphasis on her softer side that would lift her up. The two strategies were directly at odds.
[…]
On March 29, Ickes, who oversaw the targeting and budget operation with the campaign’s manager, Solis Doyle, circulated a list of the campaign’s “Key Assumptions.” Ickes believed that Iowa and New Hampshire could determine Clinton’s fate, and that the February 5 Super Tuesday primaries would determine the nominee. No mention was made of the delegates or the later-caucus states that actually figured so decisively.

Another interesting point is Harold Ickes insistent and largely ignored point about the delegates count. Just twelve days before Iowa, he was still trying to put his idea across:

Assuming that after Iowa and New Hampshire the presidential nominating contest narrows to two competitive candidates who remain locked in a highly contested electionthrough 5 February, the focus of the campaign and press will shift to the delegate count. The dedication of resources (including candidate time) should be influenced, in part, by factors that will afford HRC an advantage in acquiring more delegates compared to her opponent(s).

Amazingly, despite all that, Hillary Clinton still got 48% of the pledged delegates, and about the same in the popular vote. Still, her fall out might have handed John McCain a presidency.

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