The economic and political costs of the New Democrats’ neoliberal policies provide a good interpretive context for understanding Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year, which is compellingly narrated in Shattered. Naturally enough for a book so closely concerned with the campaign’s minute-by-minute details, Allen and Parnes suggest that Hillary’s poor tactical decisions and chaotic staffing played a large part in her defeat. And they’re not entirely wrong.
The Clintons, for instance, were obsessed with personal loyalty. Two of Hillary’s aides created “loyalty scores” for members of Congress after her failed 2008 run, and, according to Shattered, Bill even helped knock some of the lower-ranked officials out of office by campaigning against them in primary elections. This made the Clintons’ entourage extremely reluctant to give Hillary bad news, or to dish to the press about incompetent management, for fear of retribution—all of which led to a variety of blind spots in the campaign. “It was a self-signed death warrant to raise a question about Hillary’s competence—to her or anyone else—in loyalty-obsessed Clintonworld,” Allen and Parnes write.
But the deeper problem with Hillary—unlike FDR or Lincoln—was that she was an unpopular candidate because of her politics. The most shocking evidence of this is the decision by Clinton’s team to limit her campaigning in Michigan. “Our strategy was from all the data we saw,” one unnamed source from the Clinton world explained to Allen and Parnes. “Every time there was a mention of the election there, we did worse. To make the election a bigger deal was not good for our prospects in Michigan.” Perhaps their source wasn’t wrong: Despite having campaigned very heavily in Pennsylvania, she lost there, too—and it seems unlikely that any number of personal appearances would have helped her in those Rust Belt states.
Still, a politician who avoids campaigning in a particular location because she fears that doing so will cause people to vote for her opponent is about the most fundamental political failure possible. What happened? The answer is that the basic premise of Clintonism had collapsed. Instead of being politically advantageous to triangulate between the interests of upper-class-friendly neoliberalism and the Democrats’ traditional working- and middle-class base, it became a huge liability.