Skip to content

Hillary Should Fire … Hillary

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20 - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an organizing event, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Burlington, Iowa. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a Jan. 20 organizing event in Burlington, Iowa. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
When Hillary Clinton gets around to firing people, she ought to start with her top two strategists: Bill and Hillary Clinton. I’m not saying she should get out of the race but that she should get out of the business of setting her own strategy. It would send the signal that she can take responsibility for her own failings, it would empower political professionals who are more in touch with voters than the ultra-cloistered Clintons and it would spare her campaign the pain of drama and recrimination. Most of all, it would show the kind of good judgment Clinton failed to exercise in setting up a private email server at the State Department and in taking millions of dollars in speaking fees from big corporations. If, as expected, she chooses to shake up her campaign staff, she’ll hurt an already frustrated team, signal to voters that she screwed up in building her own organization and ignore the glaring reality that she and her husband are terrible 21st-century political strategists. Just look at the way they spent the past few years lining their pockets with corporate cash like Third World dictators in a brief period of exile. Surely no one outside her family told her that would help her win the White House. And you kind of have to wonder about the fitness of someone who would risk the presidency to get rich on the lecture circuit. That’s  not even the biggest messaging issue she’s faced. It took months of pressure from pretty much everyone in her campaign before Clinton reluctantly apologized for setting up a private email server.
As is the case with the speaking fees, there’s no good answer on her email system. She simply showed poor judgment in both instances and then tried to make it sound like she hadn’t. Clinton is also struggling again with developing basic campaign messages that resonate with the Democratic Party’s base. As David Axelrod, the former adviser to President Barack Obama pointed out on Twitter, the Clintons have only themselves to blame if her 2016 campaign is suffering from the same plague that did in her 2008 bid. For a second time, she’s dismissed an upstart candidate who is speaking to the aspirations of the party faithful — essentially mocking the electorate by portraying his hopes, and those of voters, as naive. Amazingly, she’s running again as the candidate of experience against a change candidate. And, once again, she is essentially arguing that she will win based on her appeal to particular demographics within the party rather than on her superior vision. Her campaign’s recent memos have focused on the theory that she will win the nomination — and they’re probably right about this — because she’ll do well with black and Hispanic voters. She could do that without calling attention to it. She could instead articulate a vision, win because she organized various constituencies and then claim a broad and diverse mandate for her vision.
Even in some areas where Clinton clearly has learned lessons from 2008, her corrections have missed the mark. For example, she could have learned a valuable lesson in the subtlety with which then-Sen. Barack Obama embraced the “historic nature” of his candidacy in 2008 without asking people to vote for him because of his racial identity. Clinton played down her gender in 2008 and many of her allies believe that hurt her. But Clinton’s remedy this time around has been to overtly pressure women to back her because of her gender. Her tack has all the subtlety and precision of a Scud missile, and it appears to be backfiring with millennial women. One can conclude what my reporting suggests: The Clintons are in charge of the campaign’s strategy and messaging as it is. Their voices are so overwhelming — a former president and a former secretary of State — that no one can effectively push back on them And so far, their messaging instincts stink. She’s the favorite to win the primary, but she’ll have to be a lot sharper to win a general election.
Does she really want to go into that fight talking about how she beat Sanders by demographic might rather than by the strength of her vision for the country’s future? If Clinton drastically alters her message, she’ll risk further damaging credibility that’s already taken a beating. When you sell yourself as one thing on Monday and a different thing on Wednesday , that naturally raised questions about your veracity. But she needs a more inspiring message about shared values and dreams sooner rather than later, and a well-designed campaign shake-up is the right time to do that. It would be a sign of honesty, good judgment and political sophistication if she acknowledged the messaging problems are coming from the top and let the professionals do their jobs. Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is head of community and content for Sidewire and a co-author of the New York Times-bestselling book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.” He and co-author Amie Parnes are working on a follow-up book about the 2016 election. Follow him on Twitter at @JonAllenDC Related: See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call’s new video site. NEW! Download the Roll Call app for the best coverage of people, politics and personalities of Capitol Hill.

Recent Stories

Food fight continues with ‘Food, Inc. 2’

Piecemeal supplemental spending plan emerges in House

White House issues worker protections for pregnancy termination

Senate leaders seek quick action on key surveillance authority

Officials search for offshore wind radar interference fix

McCarthy gavel investigation ends without a bang