WASHINGTON – Oh, what a set up. Thank you Politico. First it was floated on NBC’s First Read, then came Politico. This is my wheel house. Having written the book, quite literally, on what happened (which hits Amazon and Apple tomorrow), there isn’t anyone who can speak to this subject better.
“During the primary elections that pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, Taylor was the leading analyst of, and most articulate critic of the campaign to smear Ms. Clinton and ultimately demean her as ‘just a girl’ with a brush off the shoulder. Her book is a must read for students of that historic primary season.” – former Ambassador Joseph Wilson
I have been waiting for someone to write a piece comparing Romney to Hillary. I tried to write it the other day, preparing for when someone would, but it just didn’t come together, because as convenient as it is to posit, the facts don’t fit. NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower started it, then came Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman of Politico, though their piece came with a question mark behind the supposition in order to provide some well needed cover.
Consider me one of those Clintonites who believes the “Romney as Hillary” notion is “not a perfect parallel,” as Politico put it. As someone who has documented the 2008 campaign in detail, though my book covers 20 years of Hillary’s role in today’s politics, I also can prove the hypothesis is not only “not a perfect parallel,” but except for one or two elements, doesn’t fit at all. Hey, but it no doubt makes a good traffic sponge. Prepare for the “Romney as Hillary” theme to be regurgitated across cable.
This is an example of another element of the Hillary Effect. The impact of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, its impact on our politics, as the results and her continued impact resounds forward. The article in Politico, but also NBC’s First Read, shine klieg lights on how and why the campaign unfolded as it did and the media’s part in shaping, forwarding and sometimes contorting the story to make a point that produces myths and more myths.
What you won’t see is the Gingrich as Obama label, because even though Newt’s language fits his base today, just like Obama’s did in 2008, it’s on the negative instead of the positive.
The one thing that does mesh Mitt with Hillary is the inevitability campaign, but the practical application is miles apart.
Long before I became a “die hard Clintonite,” as the Washington Post labeled me, I pegged running an inevitability campaign as Clinton’s first mistake. I wrote about it long before I decided to back Hillary, which would come six months later.
Clinton’s Inevitability Campaign (January 22, 2007)
There’s death and taxes and now, evidently, Hillary as the 2008 nominee.
[...] However, if she’s working on inevitability now her expectations are going to get even higher. She’s also going to be met with a chilly reception in some places if she thinks she can force feed her candidacy with primary voters. If she tilts into a campaign of arrogance and anointment people will get very tired of her very quickly. With her numbers at 3% regarding the people who want to know more about her, I’d say she’s got other serious challenges ahead.
The trouble with the Politico post starts in the second paragraph, with their opening line the foreshadowing of what they’ll step in throughout their piece.
Like the great, fallen front-runner of 2008, here is another well-funded, Establishment-blessed, presumptive nominee whose supposedly firm hold on his party’s greatest prize seems to be slip-sliding away.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was thought to be “Establishment-blessed,” but when you have the leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, as well as the “lion of the Senate,” Teddy Kennedy, as well as the former leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, to name just three Establishment heavy hitters, all early-on Barack Obama supporters, though doing so under the radar, the notion of Hillary being an “Established-blessed” candidate was a myth. The Democratic establishment and the Senate boys club were for Barack Obama.
The biggest difference between Romney and Clinton is that Hillary’s team, headed by the Mark Penn, the man most responsible for her campaign debacle, was playing for a knock-out punch on Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney is playing for the long haul, with stories abounding of this fact, actually taking David Plouffe’s strategy for Barack Obama to heart.
This one element actually blows the Politico story apart, because with Republicans going proportional in this election primary, even with Newt surging, the one thing all analysts agree is that Romney’s iron man strategy may be the one factor that could save him. Newt isn’t seen to have the organization required when the campaign stretches out.
Another problem with the Politico piece:
*Like Clinton’s stance on the Iraq War authorization, Romney premised his campaign on an early and crucial decision not to apologize for what some partisans see as a fatal flaw: the health care mandate.
Romney’s health care bill in Massachusetts was good for the state, however flawed. Unlike Iraq, which the general public had turned against by 2007, health care is still seen as critically important to our economic health, but also desperately needed by the people.
Clinton on Iraq was a self-induced error of monumental proportions. It’s one of the biggest “what ifs,” which is the first chapter in my book.
Then Politico falls for the biggest canard of all.
*Like Clinton, Romney has abruptly dropped any pretense to be above the fray, punching hard at Gingrich after the former House speaker raced by him in the polls.
In the first big attack of the campaign, through an anonymous hit from team Obama, in June 2007, they forwarded oppo research, which included the tag on Hillary “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab),” using this slur to launch the first offensive attack of the primary against Clinton for her investments. As the New York Times reported, the Clintons had divested.
When the campaign was asked why they wanted not to be identified on the slur sent to the Times, this is what team Obama replied:
A copy of the document was obtained by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, which provided it to The New York Times. The Clinton campaign has long been frustrated by the effort by Mr. Obama to present his campaign as above the kind of attack politics that Mr. Obama and his aides say has led to widespread disillusionment with politics by many Americans.
Asked about the document, Bill Burton, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said: “We did give reporters a series of comments she made on the record and other things that are publicly available to anyone who has access to the Internet. I don’t see why anyone would take umbrage with that.”
Asked why the Obama campaign had initially insisted that it not be connected to the document, Mr. Burton replied, “I’m going to leave my comment at that.”
Candidate Obama was forced to issue apologies, blaming it on his staff, of course. There is a lot more where this came from, which is outlined in my book.
However, you can’t blame Politico for Hillary aides misdiagnosing the ineffectual aspects of her campaign.
“It’s the whole arc of the campaign,” said another Clinton vet, listing a number of similarities – dubbing themselves the front-runner (while publicly claiming they weren’t), topping out with support in the primary, sitting on the lead, playing things cautiously and then, when the lead began to evaporate, moving into overdrive with a “likability tour” and a hard negative pivot.
Inevitability is one place where we can all agree, but not naming Mark Penn, ignores that Romney doesn’t have a Plouffe or a Penn. But when even a “Clinton vet” talks about Hillary’s “hard negative pivot,” ignoring Obama’s, you know one small reason why I wrote The Hillary Effect.
And both candidates also fell prey to a debate gaffe that took hold of the primary narrative. It was late October 2007 when Clinton gave a muddled response about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that her opponents seized on as evidence of her tendency to be a political shape-shifter – and it was just this past Saturday when Romney uttered his now-famous “$10,000 bet” line, one that his rivals are using to define him as out of touch.
They’re correct that the response from Clinton on “illegal immigrants” was “her own fault and a train wreck to watch,” as I write in my book, however, it’s not a small point that she was also trying to cover for Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer and not throw him to the wolves. Hillary was also a New York senator at the time.
Mitt Romney set himself up and had no outside forces whatsoever pressing in on him, certainly no fellow Republican in the mix.
The driver’s license for illegal immigrant moment was also carefully set up by NBC’s Tim Russert, as I wrote about here and the Huffington Post at the time. From my book, “The Hillary Effect”:
[...] During the lightning round at the end of a grueling debate, after Williams asked Obama about U.S. air travel, Russert then asked Hillary, “Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver’s license?” New York Governor Eliot Spitzer had proposed to do just that. That this question to Hillary was sandwiched amid questions on air travel, Internet safety, UFOs, life beyond earth, and what Barack Obama was going to wear for Halloween (yes, really), was revealing.
Mitt Romney had ample time to rebut the accusations from his competitors, no lightning round, but also was the one who got himself in the mess.
Of course, beyond the obvious set up, Hillary blew the question badly, which I also write, because The Hillary Effect is not a sonnet to Mrs. Clinton.
But the reviews of the debate at the time told the story, with my book filled with back up material for the premise I make. Another paragraph from my book:
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote that “for the majority of the debate she acquitted herself well, despite having the deck stacked heavily against her.” In the debate’s first hour, Cillizza pointed out, “nearly every question and response started and ended with Clinton.”
As for Iowa, Romney’s challenges in that state are quite different than Clinton’s were. The state mimicked Mississippi in never giving the nod to a female politician.
Throughout Politico’s piece, as well as NBC’s, one thing is off the radar, which was a big part of Clinton’s challenges. The gender issue that her 18 million cracks wiped out after her loss is never mentioned.
These pieces set aside the issue of gender, looking through the prism of where we all stand today.
As the 2010 election proved, as did “ladies’ night” earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential candidacy obliterated sexist political assaults as effective, even if sexism is still with us all.
The very fact that NBC’s First Read and Politico can feature a piece comparing Romney and Clinton without mentioning once the media bias and sexism that permeated the 2008 primary race is another example of the Hillary Effect. Because of Hillary’s presidential campaign and what we all saw play out, the use of sexism as a weapon is not effective any longer. That NBC’s First Read and Politico missed the subject entirely isn’t surprising, because today, with Hillary at State, and Obama running for reelection, it’s easy to ignore what happened, because people in the Obama era don’t want to look back, because it seems like yesterday’s news.
On the contrary, enough time has passed that it can now be seen for what it was, a seminal moment in American history, as well as a passage to another era, one where gender politics doesn’t hold sway like it did when Hillary ran in 2008.
The book I’ve written is all about that history, encompassing 20 years of Hillary’s rise in politics to where she stands today at State. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn’t just any politician and 2008 wasn’t just any presidential contest. Hillary’s now a historic figure who “changed the molecules,” to quote Gloria Steinem, for women and politics in America, which will never be the same again thanks to the Hillary Effect.
Gender has never been further from the political radar, as NBC’s First Read and Politico prove, though in making the case for Romney as Hillary, one of the main aspects employed is amnesia.
It’s one reason why I wrote The Hillary Effect.
This column has been updated.