By Vikas Datta
Title: Shattered – Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign; Author: Jonathan Allan & Amie Parnes; Publisher: Crown/Penguin Random House US; Pages: 482; Price: Rs 799
It was an election she had been preparing long for and was favoured to win to become the first woman heading the world’s most powerful democracy. But as American voters confounded experienced but “establishment” candidate Hillary Clinton – and experts – to plump for an erratic, untested, and loose-tongued businessman Donald Trump as their President, they have given birth to an entire industry searching for the reasons.
While Russian “interference” through calibrated leaks of Democrat’s internal documents, FBI chief James Comey’s raising of her private e-mail server issue twice, rival Bernie Sanders’ prolonged and “toxic” campaign in the nomination fight, and Donald Trump’s channelling of angry white working class votes are usually cited, what responsibility does Hillary Clinton herself have?
It is this aspect that political journalists Jonathan Allan and Amie Parnes seek to investigate in this book, and in their thrilling, behind-the-scenes and incisive retelling of her second and final Presidential bid, they find the candidate – whose polarising nature is well-acknowledged – herself and her campaign had a crucial role too.
Focussing on her major decisions, foregone opportunities, unlearnt lessons, miscalculations, and pitfalls “that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss” as well as how “Hillary herself made victory an uphill battle”, the authors are, however, no Hillary-baiters, but rather on her side – to a point.
Allan and Parnes, whose previous book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” (2015) chronicled her resurrection after losing the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, admit they expected they would be “writing the inside story of Hillary shattering what she had called the ‘highest, hardest glass ceiling'”.
“We were surprised, then, when Clintonworld sources started telling us in 2015 that Hillary was still struggling to articulate her motivation for seeking the presidency. And we were taken aback by how much infighting was going on below the surface of her campaign…”
In their account, which spans Hillary’s decision to commit herself to her second bid in early 2015 to that watershed night in November 2016, gives you a ringside view of genesis of her bid, its organisation, its high and lows, its successes and failures and finally the tragic denouement.
Based on extensive access to key players, enabled by their decision to conduct interviews on background to enable full anonymity to their sources, Allen and Parnes’ story is also a cautionary tale for all politicians – though it can be argued that a lot of flaws can only be discerned in hindsight.
While they hold that the external factors did play a role, they also fault Hillary and her campaign managers for not assessing problems properly or taking timely remedial attention. There were people who did warn things were not going there way but weren’t heeded, including Hillary’s husband and former President Bill Clinton, who may be seen in various lights, but cannot be faulted in his reading of the public pulse.
On the usual reasons, Allen and Parnes hold that on the private email server issue, Hillary never told the full story or sought to put it behind her at a time it could have been controlled. And while Comey’s role is downright inappropriate, the issue was something that she brought on herself – the purported reason disclosed here is not very palatable too.
And while Sanders’ overlong and bruising campaign did play a role as his many of his supporters never swung behind her and his eventual support was rather tepid, Clinton and her team failed to gauge the outlook and importance of his constituency – and Trump plumbed to fashion his victory.
There are more issues, such as the differing approaches of her campaign team, which never mounted a concerted effort, some key personnel’s reliance on their own technological techniques over public interface, her voter targeting but above all, her own image which was so engrained in the public psyche that it could not be refashioned.
But Allan and Parnes do acknowledge that Hillary Clinton did accomplish something despite the odds stacked against her, and her case tells as much as about the American voter as it does about her. How will their decision impact them remains to be seen, though the early signs are not very positive.