Will There Be a Civil War in Clinton Land?

The positioning for jobs has already begun if Hillary Clinton runs. The question is how she manages it.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: While delivering remarks, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton displays the 2013 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize after receiving the award December 6, 2013 in Washington, DC. Clinton received the award for her work in the areas of women's rights and internet freedom.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
April 30, 2014, 5:55 p.m.

Shortly after Hil­lary Clin­ton moved in­to the White House, she gathered a group of top aides known col­lect­ively as “Hil­lary­land” in the cor­res­pond­ence of­fice of the East Wing to de­liv­er a simple mes­sage.

“The only way we can do this in this pres­sure cook­er of a place is to help each oth­er. No stabbing each oth­er. No gos­sip­ing,” Clin­ton said, ac­cord­ing to one of those aides present, who re­called the story to re­port­er Michelle Cottle in the sum­mer of 2007, months be­fore the im­plo­sion of Clin­ton’s first pres­id­en­tial cam­paign led to a ca­co­phony of back­stabbing and gos­sip­ing.

If Clin­ton hopes to re­turn to the White House after the 2016 elec­tion, she’d bet­ter hope the people around her fol­low that ad­vice bet­ter than they did last time. The po­s­i­tion­ing for jobs on a cam­paign that doesn’t even ex­ist has already quietly be­gun. And it has the po­ten­tial to get ugly.

Every pres­id­en­tial cam­paign faces dif­fi­cult and po­ten­tially messy staff­ing choices, as it bal­ances the com­pet­ing de­sires to re­ward loy­alty, make room for new ideas, and im­pose com­mand and con­trol. Simple math dic­tates that there will be bruised egos: There are too many people who want good jobs, and not nearly enough to go around.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s reelec­tion cam­paign had to dis­ap­point some aides who had helped in 2008 or dur­ing his first term in the White House; George W. Bush had to choose between friends from Texas, and those who had worked for his fath­er; Al Gore shunned many Clin­ton aides to try to build a par­al­lel staff.

But no pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate in re­cent memory has ac­cu­mu­lated as many po­ten­tial bruised egos as Hil­lary Clin­ton. The Clin­tons are fam­ous for cul­tiv­at­ing friends and staff, and after 30-plus years in polit­ics, trav­el­ing from the Arkan­sas gov­ernor’s man­sion to the White House to the Sen­ate to a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign to the State De­part­ment, there are lots and lots of people who would like — and be­lieve they de­serve — a piece of the ac­tion. And that doesn’t even in­clude people who worked for Obama or oth­er Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns who want in.

“The day she an­nounces, there will be 400 people who think they have a job in the West Wing,” one former Clin­ton aide said.

This comes with the ter­rit­ory for any pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, which is gen­er­ally the hot­test game in town for op­er­at­ives, but es­pe­cially for a po­ten­tial can­did­ate ex­pec­ted to have a clear path to the nom­in­a­tion and a good shot at the White House.

It’s not hard to find Demo­crats in Wash­ing­ton who are already dream­ing — idly or not — about what kind of job they’d like in a Clin­ton cam­paign: mid-level field staffers who know which states they’d like to work in; seni­or com­mu­nic­a­tions staffers who won’t settle for a less­er job; the long­time loy­al­ists who ex­pect to be re­war­ded.

“There’s a lot of people with a sense of en­ti­tle­ment out there,” said an­oth­er Demo­crat­ic strategist who has worked in the Clin­ton or­bit.

But there’s a wide­spread de­sire for a new ap­proach. Already, four seni­or aides from the last cam­paign have said pub­licly that they won’t have a part in a new cam­paign, in­clud­ing seni­or strategist Mark Penn, cam­paign man­ager Patti Sol­is Doyle, and com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Howard Wolf­son.

The field of po­ten­tial can­did­ates most of­ten named for the cam­paign man­ager role, pro­filed re­cently in U.S. News by Dav­id Catanese, in­cludes some new faces. There’s Guy Cecil, the 2008 cam­paign’s na­tion­al polit­ic­al and field dir­ect­or, who is now the lauded ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. There’s Robby Mook, the pop­u­lar young strategist who last year ran the suc­cess­ful Vir­gin­ia gubernat­ori­al cam­paign of Terry McAul­iffe, Clin­ton’s 2008 cam­paign chair­man. And there’s Mar­lon Mar­shall, a field guru who worked on Clin­ton’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign and now works for the Obama White House.

Out­sider pos­sib­il­it­ies in­clude Stephanie Schriock, who has helped dozens of Demo­crat­ic wo­men win cam­paigns across the coun­try as pres­id­ent of EMILY’s List. There is also Ace Smith, who, while not as well-known in­side the Belt­way, is a low-key le­gend in Cali­for­nia, where he is cur­rently in­volved in the state’s top three cam­paigns — the reelec­tion bids of Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gav­in New­s­om, and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kamala Har­ris — and where he won the state for Clin­ton in 2008.

Even if there’s only one top spot, all could play some role in the cam­paign, as could a slew of oth­ers. Vet­er­an field or­gan­izer Mi­chael Whouley, Kerry/Ed­wards ad­viser Charlie Baker, and former Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Polit­ic­al Dir­ect­or Jill Alp­er, all of the Dewey Square Group, briefed Clin­ton last sum­mer on a 2016 run, as Politico’s Mag­gie Haber­man re­por­ted, but it’s un­clear what role they’d play in a cam­paign.

Oth­ers who would likely be in­volved at a seni­or level in­clude the Hil­lary­land core who have re­mained loy­al and mostly kept their heads down since Clin­ton’s 1993 pep talk, in­clud­ing Mag­gie Wil­li­ams and Cheryl Mills, as well as John Podesta, the Bill Clin­ton chief of staff who went on to found the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress.

Of course, there’s also a whole oth­er uni­verse of Obama aides. For in­stance, Mitch Stew­art and Jeremy Bird, who dir­ec­ted field op­er­a­tions for the 2012 cam­paign, have already worked closely with Ready for Hil­lary, the pro-Hil­lary su­per PAC that is help­ing to build a cam­paign-in-wait­ing for the former sec­ret­ary of State.

But no mat­ter how much de­sire there is for new blood, it be can dif­fi­cult and costly to push people out, es­pe­cially for a boss who places such a high value on loy­alty.

Phil­ippe Reines, Clin­ton’s fiercely loy­al me­dia gate­keep­er, proudly re­coun­ted to a pro­filer in 2011 how he re­fused to be fired after a mis­step on the 2008 cam­paign. “Patti [Sol­is Doyle] fired me,” Reines re­called. “I just sort of ig­nored it, like George Cost­anza. I was in the of­fice the next day at 7 a.m.”¦ [Clin­ton] wanted me there.” He re­mains one of Clin­ton’s closest aides, cur­rently work­ing to or­gan­ize her book tour.

His stub­born­ness was re­war­ded, since it was Sol­is Doyle who would soon be fired for real. But ac­cord­ing to journ­al­ist Joshua Green, vari­ous seni­or of­fi­cials in the Clin­ton high com­mand had tried to fire the cam­paign man­ager at least three times over two years be­fore she was fi­nally re­lieved in 2008. Even then, it re­portedly took weeks for Clin­ton to ex­ecute the de­cision.

If an ax needs to be wiel­ded, some ex­pect the task may fall to Chelsea Clin­ton, who per­formed a sim­il­ar role when she took over the Clin­ton fam­ily’s char­it­able found­a­tion. But the takeover broke some china, lead­ing to a trail of bad press and per­haps the cre­ation of a few frenemies.

Some dam­age is prob­ably in­ev­it­able, but it can be man­aged. Obama’s 2012 cam­paign, for in­stance, had few­er dam­aging in­tern­al leaks than Mitt Rom­ney’s, even though the pres­id­ent al­most cer­tainly had more people who felt like they de­served a job than Rom­ney did.

The trick for Clin­ton in 2016 will be pre­vent­ing the bruised egos, which are un­avoid­able, from be­com­ing head­aches, back­bit­ing, and leaks.

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