A second Clinton presidency? Up until October and even November 2016, this seemed like a foregone conclusion. Despite having lost 2008’s Democratic Party primaries to a young and previously poorly known Senator from Illinois (Barack Obama), Hillary Rodham Clinton had spent the following years laying the groundwork for another shot at the White House. No-one else in American politics seemed better qualified than the former First Lady turned Senator and then Secretary of State. Years of governmental experience should have positioned HRC to flawlessly transition into the White House, but, on the evening of 8th November 2016, those dreams were shattered.
One can safely assume that much more will be written about the 2016 American presidential election, but “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes stands out as the first substantial book published on the subject, and probably one of the best as well; anything that comes after will have a rather hard act to follow.
Allen and Parnes survey HRC’s abortive presidential campaign, similarly to Heilemann and Halperin’s excellent “Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House” and “Double Down”, but with an obvious focus on the Democratic Party, and presenting a tense fly-on-the-wall account built up by copious interviews with HRC’s staff members and Democratic insiders both during and after the presidential campaign.
Surprisingly, the picture they paint is a frightening one. My first conclusion from this book was that HRC had reached her ceiling as Secretary of State, and simply unsuited to the role of President of the United States. It wasn’t that the she was evil and malignant – as many of her Republican opponents claimed, but HRC seems to have just failed to get things right. While there were certainly big mistakes that hindered her for years, such as using a private server to store sensitive emails while serving as Secretary of State, the litany of smaller ones built up as well.
It was also interesting to examine the various strategic errors HRC’s campaign team made. Not only do the book’s authors ably highlight them, but also analyse how and why they were ultimately able to contribute to a Trump victory. Chief of these were underestimating DJT’s ability to galvanise support amongst the apathetic, especially in the Midwestern “Rust Belt” (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) which HRC could not take the White House without winning on 8th November. Also frequently criticised was the campaign’s deeply siloed nature, preventing key staff members and teams from effectively communicating with each other.
“Shattered” is a good, but also painfully illuminating read. Often agonising in its detail of HRC’s campaigning failures, it offers a good post-mortem on her second failed presidential bid. Excellently written, it was dull at points because the candidate herself was dull. The authors have made a strong effort at reflecting her candidacy and wider campaign, for which they should be commended. Less than a year on from the election itself, we can still expect many more books to be written about the subject, though. The ones which examine the veritable circus of the Republican Party’s presidential primary and Trump’s successful campaign are likely to be both more interesting and engaging.