Presidential races

New race, old faces for Hillary

Greg Nash

Just a few months before many expect Hillary Clinton to announce a second bid for the White House, the players in her orbit look a lot like the ones who surrounded her the first time she ran for president. 

And that’s a worry to many Clinton supporters, who fear a 2016 run could fall victim to some of the same dysfunctions as her 2008 bid. 

Clinton’s 2008 campaign was infamous for infighting at the staff level — complete with epic outbursts at staff meetings and power struggles throughout the operation.

{mosads}“I don’t think it’ll be much different,” said one top Democratic strategist. “While some people won’t be returning, the core group will be the same as 2008 and I don’t see it changing much.”

While Clinton only has a staff of about a half-dozen currently working for her, hundreds of former Clintonites, from her East Wing and Senate days as well as from her last campaign, are itching for an announcement so they can pounce for Round 2.

One of Clinton’s biggest strengths is also one of her biggest weaknesses, say veteran Clinton-watchers: loyalty to a fault. 

She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have built an endless Rolodex from their days in Arkansas to Hillary Clinton’s time at the State Department and value loyalty in staff. In turn, ex-staffers support the former first couple to no end.

That creates a problem, says a former aide.

“They have these fan boys and fan girls who go all the way back to Arkansas, former staff, longtime friends, donors, acquaintances,” the ex-aide said. “You don’t need all those people to provide advice or run a campaign.”

Separately, a Democratic strategist said Clinton’s first campaign was “too ridden by faction” and included too many people “fighting for their piece of the pie.”

“They need a ‘come to Jesus’ moment where they realize some pretty significant mistakes were made in 2008 and they’ve gotta find a way to change it,” the strategist said of the Clinton team, adding that Hillary Clinton needed to “get rid of some of the dead wood” and add some new blood to the operation.

At a recent Ready for Hillary meeting in New York, many of the same players — including Harold Ickes, who served as senior adviser in the 2008 campaign, and even older hands such as James Carville and Paul Begala, who worked in the Bill Clinton White House — addressed hundreds of donors and supporters. Throughout the day-long meeting, the halls at the Sheraton Times Square hotel felt like a Clinton reunion, with the likes of Craig Smith, a former senior adviser to Clinton’s 2008 campaign, and Jonathan Mantz, who served as Clinton’s finance manager in 2008, among the familiar faces.

Other former Clinton aides who are now involved in the pro-Clinton super-PACs Ready for Hillary and Correct the Record were also in attendance.

Clinton allies say that good staffers shouldn’t be disqualified from working on the 2016 campaign just because they worked on the losing 2008 bid.

“All of her former, current and potentially future staff should have grown up and wisened up,” one former Clinton aide said. “Tools have changed, campaigns have changed, the electorate has changed, the whole world has changed.

“Involvement in 2008 should not be a disqualifier, but a resistance to shaking up the status quo should,” the aide added.

Clinton herself seemingly learned some of these lessons while doing post-mortem sessions.

Patti Solis Doyle, who was Clinton’s first campaign manager before she was let go in the middle of the grueling Democratic primary, and strategist Mark Penn, whose ties went back to Bill Clinton’s White House days, are not expected to play roles during a 2016 campaign. Both were blamed by people in the Clinton inner circle for an arrogance at the top of her 2008 campaign.

When Clinton went to the State Department the following year, she surrounded herself with many longtime Senate and campaign aides — but she also brought in and relied upon a number of staffers outside her close-knit network. 

It is unclear how many aides to President Obama might go on to work for Clinton’s would-be campaign, but some have already made inroads.

Mitch Stewart, for example, who served in key roles during Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, currently serves as an adviser for Ready for Hillary. And Jim Messina, Obama’s former campaign manager, is the co-chairman of Priorities USA, another political action committee backing Clinton.  

And when Clinton rolled out her book, Hard Choices, earlier this year, Tommy Vietor, a longtime Obama spokesman, helped manage her press.

Even if many of the same aides reemerge this year, political observers say Clinton can run a successful campaign.

“In 2008, there were too many colonels and no general to deploy and discipline the colonels and their troops,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “There is nothing like getting beat … to instill a little discipline the next time around.”

Tags Bill Clinton Government Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton caucuses and primaries James Carville Politics Politics of the United States

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