To understand American history, Jon Lauck says you have to understand the Midwest's role in some critical events.
After her failed presidential campaign and a stint as secretary of state, it’s widely assumed that the former first lady will make another run for the White House in 2016.
A new book, “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” (excerpt below) sets the stage for her potential candidacy, digging deep into the political machine that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have developed over the years.
The book paints them as remaining fiercely loyal to their supporters, but politically punishing to those who cross them. Co-authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes join Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the book and Hillary Clinton’s future.
Jonathan Allen on whether Hillary Clinton will run in 2016
“She’s got her track suit on, her shoes on, she’s in the starting block and there’s very little that’s going to stop her at this point. But I think the way Amy and I are both looking at it — and we write about this in the book — is she’s been running for president for a long time. And the question isn’t whether she’ll run, but whether she’ll stop running.”
Jonathan Allen on the vindictiveness of the Clintons
“We have a scene in the book where Bill Clinton is reminiscing about one of these guys that they saw as a traitor, a guy named Jason Altmire, a congressman from Pennsylvania at the time. He had been appointed to the Clinton healthcare task force in the early ’90s when he was a young guy, but he refused to give his endorsement to Hillary Clinton. And Bill Clinton said to a couple of his friends while having dinner and talking about Altmire, ‘if you don’t have loyalty in politics, what do you have.’ Bill Clinton a few years later, after some icy meetings with Jason Altmire, some chance encounters where he turned a cold shoulder to the congressman, actually went after Jason Altmire in a primary, supported his opponent, a guy named Mark Critz, turned that primary around — Altmire had been in the lead. All of a sudden, Critz with Clinton’s backing ends up knocking Jason Altmeir out and today Jason Altmeier is in the private sector … retired by Bill Clinton.”
Amie Parnes on why Hillary Clinton thinks she lost the 2008 election
“She had a meeting or a series of meetings with aides and close friends, where she called them in and said, ‘what did we do wrong here, talk me through this.’ And they basically told her that there was an arrogance at the top, that people weren’t really telling her what was happening during the campaign and that Barack Obama was running circles around her in terms of technology. And the other big thing is that she really didn’t embrace the fact that she was a woman candidate the way Barack Obama embraced the fact that he was African-American. And so I do think if she does run in 2016 — and we think she will, as we talk about in the book — that she’s going to embrace that more. You’re going to see a different Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.”
Amy Parnes on Bill and Hillary’s marriage
“It’s hard to get inside of a marriage of two people, two very public people, but one thing we can say for sure is he loves her and as Jon said, he has a blind spot towards her. He wants to see her succeed, you know, they have the same goal. But they have different strategies of getting there. And I think we’ve seen a lot of that play out.”
Inside a cramped third-floor office of Hillary Clinton’s once-bustling presidential campaign headquarters in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, Kris Balderston and Adrienne Elrod put the finishing touches on a political hit list. It was late June 2008, and Hillary had dropped her bid for the presidency. The war room, where her brain trust had devolved into profanity-laced shouting matches, was empty. The data crunchers were gone. The political director had drifted out. A handful of Hillary’s aides had already hooked up with Barack Obama’s campaign in Chicago.
Balderston’s salt-and-pepper beard gave him the look of a college English professor who didn’t need to shave for his job. Then in his early fifties, he had been with the Clintons since their White House days, serving as a deputy assistant to the president and later as Hillary’s legislative director and deputy chief of staff in the Senate. The official government titles obscured Balderston’s true value: he was an elite political operator and one of Hillary’s favorite suppliers of gossip. After more than a dozen years spent working for the Clintons, he knew how to keep score in a political race.
Elrod, a toned thirty-one-year-old blonde with a raspy Ozark drawl, had an even longer history with the Clintons that went back to her childhood in Siloam Springs, a town of fifteen thousand people in northwestern Arkansas, on the Oklahoma border. She had known Bill Clinton since at least the age of five. Her father, John Elrod, a prominent lawyer in Fayetteville, first befriended thefuture president at Arkansas Boys State when they were teenagers. Like Bill Clinton, Adrienne Elrod had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a broad smile that conveyed warmth instantaneously. She had first found work in the Clinton White House after a 1996 internship there, then became a Democratic Party political operative, and later held senior posts on Capitol Hill. She joined the Hillary Clinton for President outfit as a communications aide and then shifted into Balderston’s delegate-courting congressional-relations office in March. Trusted because of her deep ties to the Clinton network, Elrod helped Balderston finalize the list.
For months they had meticulously updated a wall-size dry-erase board with color-coded symbols, letters, and arrows to track which lawmakers were leaning toward endorsing Hillary and which were headed in Obama’s direction. For example, the letters “LO” indicated that a lawmaker was “leaning Obama,” while “BD” in blue denoted that he or she was a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition on Capitol Hill.
As one of the last orders of business for a losing campaign, they recorded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet the names and deeds of members of Congress. They carefully noted who had endorsed Hillary, who backed Barack Obama, and who stayed on the sidelines—standard operating procedure for any high-end political organization. But the data went into much more nuanced detail. “We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” said a member of Hillary’s campaign team, “and of those who endorsed us, who went the extra mile and who was just kind of there. And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are [Congressional Black Caucus] members or Illinois members. And then, of course, those who endorsed him but really should have been with her . . . that burned her.”
For Hillary, whose loss was not the end of her political career, the spreadsheet was a necessity of modern political warfare, an improvement on what old-school politicians called a favor file. It meant that when asks rolled in, she and Bill would have at their fingertips all the information needed to make a quick decision—including extenuating, mitigating, and amplifying factors—so that friends could be rewarded and enemies punished.
Their spreadsheet formalized the deep knowledge of those involved in building it. Like so many of the Clinton help, Balderston and Elrod were walking favor files. They remembered nearly every bit of assistance the Clintons had given and every slight made against them. Almost six years later most Clinton aides can still rattle off the names of traitors and the favors that had been done for them, then provide detailed accounts of just how each of the guilty had gone on to betray the Clintons—as if it all had happened just a few hours before. The data project ensured that the acts of the sinners and saints would never be forgotten.
There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post, or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school. On one early draft of the hit list, each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from one to seven, with the most helpful to Hillary earning ones and the most treacherous drawing sevens. The set of sevens included senators John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Bob Casey, and Patrick Leahy, as well as representatives Chris Van Hollen, Baron Hill, and Rob Andrews.
Yet even seven didn’t seem strong enough to quantify the betrayal of some onetime allies.
When the Clintons sat in judgment, Claire McCaskill got the seat closest to the fire. Bill and Hillary had gone all out for her when she ran for Senate in Missouri in 2006, as had Obama. But McCaskill seemed to forget that favor when NBC’s Tim Russert asked her whether Bill had been a great president, during a Meet the Press debate against then-senator Jim Talent in October 2006. “He’s been a great leader,” McCaskill said of Bill, “but I don’t want my daughter near him.”
Instantly, McCaskill regretted her remark; the anguish brought her “to the point of epic tears,” according to a friend. She knew the comment had sounded much more deliberate than a forgivable slip of the tongue. So did Hillary, who immediately canceled a planned fund-raiser for McCaskill. A few days later McCaskill called Bill Clinton to offer a tearful apology. Bill was gracious, which just made McCaskill feel worse. After winning the seat, she was terrified of running into Hillary Clinton in the Capitol. “I really don’t want to be in an elevator alone with her,” McCaskill confided to the friend.
But Hillary, who was just then embarking on her presidential campaign, still wanted something from McCaskill—the Missourian’s endorsement. Women’s groups, including EMILY’s List, pressured McCaskill to jump aboard the Clinton bandwagon, and Hillary courted her new colleague personally, setting up a one-on-one lunch in the Senate Dining Room in early 2007. Rather than ask for her support directly, Hillary took a softer approach, seeking common ground on the struggles of campaigning, including the physical toll. “There’s a much more human side to Hillary,” McCaskill thought.
Obama, meanwhile, was pursuing her, too, in a string of conversations on the Senate floor. Clearly, Hillary thought she had a shot at McCaskill. But for McCaskill, the choice was always whether to endorse Obama or to stay on the sidelines. In January 2008 she not only became the first female senator to endorse Obama but also made the case to his team that her support would be amplified if Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano came out for him at roughly the same time. McCaskill offered up a small courtesy, calling Hillary’s personal aide, Huma Abedin, ahead of the endorsement to make sure it didn’t blindside Hillary.
But the trifecta of women leaders giving Obama their public nod was a devastating blow. Hate is too weak a word to describe the feelings that Hillary’s core loyalists still have for McCaskill, who seemed to deliver a fresh endorsement of Obama—and a caustic jab at Hillary—every day during the primary.
Many of the other names on the traitor side of the ledger were easy to remember, from Ted Kennedy to John Lewis, the civil rights icon whose defection had been so painful that Bill Clinton seemed to be in a state of denial about it. In private conversations, he tried to explain away Lewis’s motivations for switching camps midstream, after Obama began ratcheting up pressure for black lawmakers to get on “the right side of history.” Lewis, because of his own place in American history and the unique loyalty test he faced with the first viable black candidate running for president, is a perfect example of why Clinton aides had to keep track of more detailed information than the simple binary of for and against. Perhaps someday Lewis’s betrayal could be forgiven.
Ted Kennedy (another seven on the hit list) was a different story. He had slashed Hillary worst of all, delivering a pivotal endorsement speech for Obama just before the Super Tuesday primaries that cast her as yesterday’s news and Obama as the rightful heir to Camelot. He did it in conjunction with a New York Times op-ed by Caroline Kennedy that said much the same thing in less thundering tones. Bill Clinton had pleaded with Kennedy to hold off, but to no avail. Still, Clinton aides exulted in schadenfreude when their enemies faltered. Years later they would joke about the fates of the folks who they felt had betrayed them. “Bill Richardson: investigated; John Edwards: disgraced by scandal; Chris Dodd: stepped down,” one said to another. “Ted Kennedy,” the aide continued, lowering his voice to a whisper for the punch line, “dead.”
For several months, as the campaign intensified, Balderston and Elrod kept close tabs on an even smaller subset of targeted members of Congress, who were still undecided after Super Tuesday. Because Hillary and her team made such an intense effort to swing these particular lawmakers in the final months of the campaign, they are the first names that spring to mind when Hillary’s aides talk about who stuck a knife in her back and twisted it.
For Balderston, the betrayal of Jim Moran, the congressman from Alexandria, Virginia, was perhaps the most personal. The two men were social friends in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, about six miles from campaign headquarters. They were even in the same book club. For months Balderston had casually pressed Moran about his endorsement. Moran played coy. He praised Hillary but came up short of promising an endorsement. Then in January 2008, Moran left a voice message for Balderston: I’m all in for Hillary, he said. Naturally, Balderston was excited. The courtship of delegates hadn’t been going well, and adding a new name to Hillary’s column was welcome news. But Balderston’s joy was short-lived. “What the fuck?” he exclaimed a couple of weeks later as he read the news that Moran was set to endorse Obama. He called the congressman, his old chum from the neighborhood. “Do not ever call me again!” Balderston said. He stopped going to the book club.
Bill was particularly incensed at California representative Lois Capps. He had campaigned for Capps’s husband, Walter, who knocked out an incumbent congresswoman in 1996, delivered the eulogy the following year at Walter’s congressional memorial service—calling him “entirely too nice to be in Congress”—and then helped Lois Capps win her husband’s seat in a special election. The Cappses’ daughter, Laura, had even worked in the Clinton White House.
“How could this happen?” Bill asked, after Lois Capps came out for Obama at the end of April.
“Do you know her daughter is married to Bill Burton?” one of Hillary’s aides replied.
Burton worked for Obama as a high-profile campaign spokeman and would go on to join the White House staff, but this did little to assuage the former president’s frustration. Bill and Hillary were shocked at how many Democrats had abandoned them to hook up with the fresh brand of Barack Obama. The injuries and insults were endless, and each blow hurt more than the last, the cumulative effect of months and months of defections. During the spring and summer, the Clinton campaign went days on end without adding a single endorsement.
It reached the point where Hillary—in a stale, sterile conference room at the DNC headquarters—asked uncommitted “super- delegates” to give her their word, privately, that they would back her if it came to a vote at the convention, even if they weren’t willing to take the political risk of coming out for her publicly ahead of time. Unlike the regular delegates who were elected in state party primaries and caucuses, the superdelegates, a group of lawmakers, governors, and other Democratic officials, could support whichever candidate they wanted to at the convention. As a last resort, Hillary pleaded with them to simply refrain from adding their names to Obama’s column. Bill would make that pitch, too, in phone calls and when he crossed paths with lawmakers. Please, just don’t endorse Obama, he cajoled.
Balderston and Elrod recorded them all, good and bad, one by one, for history—and for Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s tall, balding, postpresidency aide-de-camp. A former University of Florida frat boy, he had a fierce loyalty to the former president that competed with his instinct for accumulating wealth and status. One longtime associate, reflecting the view of some others in the Clinton world, described him as “always looking out for number one.” But if that was true, Bill Clinton came a very close second. As a young man, Band served in the Clinton White House and then went on to help create and oversee the vast Clinton web of charities.
Most important for politicians, donors, and journalists alike, he became the gatekeeper to Bill Clinton. Few question Band’s strategic vision in setting up Bill’s postpresidency philanthropic empire, and he counts Huma Abedin, Hillary’s top personal aide, among his close friends. But some in Hillaryland take a dim view of Band’s influence on the former president. He can be so abrasive that Maggie Williams, the person closest to Hillary, told friends at one point that she quit working at the Clinton Foundation in large part because of Band. But Band was in charge of the Clinton database, a role that made him the arbiter of when other politicians received help from the Clintons and when they didn’t.
“It wasn’t so much punishing as rewarding, and I really think that’s an important point,” said one source familiar with Bill’s thinking. “It wasn’t so much ‘We’re going to get you.’ It was ‘We’re going to help our friends.’ I honestly think that’s an important subtlety in Bill Clinton, in his head. She’s not as calculated, but he is.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW, and there is a new book out today that is already getting a lot of attention just because of the subject: Hillary Rodham Clinton. The book is called "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton." And we're joined now by the co-authors: Jonathan Allen, who covers the White House for Bloomberg News; and Amie Parnes, senior White House correspondent for The Hill. Welcome to both of you.
AMIE PARNES: Thanks for having us, Jeremy.
JONATHAN ALLEN: Yeah, thank you, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well Jonathan, let me start with you. And let's just get this out of the way right at the top. Is she running in 2016?
ALLEN: I think she's got her tracksuit on, her shoes on, she's in the starting block, and there's very little that's going to stop her at this point. But the way I think Amy and I both look at this - at it, and we write about this in the book, is she's been running for president for a long time. And the question isn't whether she'll run but whether she'll stop running.
HOBSON: Amie, was she running when she was secretary of state, do you think?
PARNES: I think the Clintons are always running, and if they're not, they have their eye on the future. And they also are looking back. As we talk about in the book, we mention the hit list and something that came out of 2008, but it applies to something that - to a conversation that's happening right now, and it applied to 2012 and the 2010 election cycle.
So I think you're seeing a lot of looking back and looking ahead with the Clintons.
HOBSON: Well, you mentioned the hit list. This is something that comes up in your book, and it's very interesting, this vindictiveness that the Clintons have, although you could say a lot of politicians have. But I want to just read a little passage here. It says: There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid's application to an elite school.
They remember everything, Jonathan.
ALLEN: And when they don't remember it, they have aides who are there to enter it into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet so that it can be held as data forever.
HOBSON: You're being serious about that, by the way.
ALLEN: I mean literally that's what they do. And, you know, we have a scene in the book where Bill Clinton is reminiscing about one of these guys that they saw as a traitor, a guy named Jason Altmire, a congressman from Pennsylvania at the time. He had been appointed to the Clinton Health Care Task Force in the early '90s when he was a young guy, but he refused to give his endorsement to Hillary Clinton.
And Bill Clinton said to a couple of his friends, while having dinner and talking about Altmire, if you don't have loyalty in politics, what do you have? Bill Clinton a few years later, after some icy meetings with Jason Altmire, some chance encounters where he turned a cold shoulder to the congressman, actually went after Jason Altmire in a primary, supported his opponent, a guy named Mark Critz, turned that primary around. Altmire had been in the lead. All of a sudden Critz with Clinton's backing ends up knocking Jason Altmire out, and today Jason Altmire is in the private sector living in Florida, not his Western Pennsylvania congressional district.
PARNES: Retired, if you will.
ALLEN: Retired by Bill Clinton.
HOBSON: Amie, Amie Parnes, why do you think that Hillary thinks that she lost to Obama in 2008, as she's looked back on this? And it's clear from your book that she's done a lot of looking back on this issue. Why does she think she lost?
PARNES: She lost for a number of reasons. We talk about this in the book. She had a meeting, or a series of meetings with aides and close friends where she called them in, and she said what did we do wrong here, talk me through this. And they basically told her that there was an arrogance at the top, that people weren't really telling her what was really happening during the campaign and that Barack Obama was running circles around her in terms of technology.
And the other big thing is that she really didn't embrace the fact that she was a woman candidate the way that Barack Obama embraced the fact that he was African-American. And so I think if she does run in 2016, and we think she will, as we talk about in the book, that, you know, she's going to embrace that more. You're going to see a different Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.
HOBSON: Will you see a Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in a big way?
ALLEN: I think you will see Bill Clinton on the campaign trail, should she run, of course. You know, this is sort of a Goldilocks situation we've seen in the treatment of Bill Clinton by Democratic candidates in 2000. Al Gore distanced himself, and that didn't work very well. He probably would've done better to bring Bill Clinton in.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton, you know, let Bill Clinton be on full display, doing his own thing, and he ended up in some cases hurting her. In 2012, Barack Obama sort of found the right thing. He had Bill Clinton act as a surrogate but didn't let him freelance at all. So he would go out and give stump speeches on Obama's behalf; he's very effective at that, and didn't have some of the slipups that were more common to him in the 2008 race.
We talk about a lot of these things in the book, but I think if Hillary Clinton is to run, she's got to figure that out. That's going to be one of the big questions for her. Is she able to use him effectively, or does he end up being a problem for her? He has a particular blind spot when it comes to strategy for her. He's even better at strategy for himself than he is with strategy for her.
HOBSON: We're speaking with Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Their new book is "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton." You're listening to HERE AND NOW. And Amie Parnes, how's their marriage right now, Bill and Hillary?
PARNES: Well, it's hard to get inside a marriage of two people, two very public people I should say. But I think one thing we can say for sure is that he loves her. And as John said, he has a blind spot towards her. He wants to see her succeed. You know, they have the same goal, but they have different strategies of getting there, and I think we've seen a lot of that play out.
HOBSON: You start the book with the Benghazi - now we could say Benghazi scandal, but of course the Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed in that attack on the consulate in Benghazi in 2012. Let's listen to tape from Hillary Clinton's testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED CONGRESSIONAL HEARING)
HILLARY CLINTON: The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest...
SENATOR RON JOHNSON: I understand.
CLINTON: ...or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?
HOBSON: So how much of a problem is that going to be for her if she runs in 2016?
ALLEN: It's one of the great questions for 2016. Republicans have been trying to make it an issue. I think they will continue to try to make it an issue. It is something that really animates Republicans. It's not clear that that's got crossover for independents and Democrats yet. But certainly something that we're going to hear a lot about over the next few years.
Should also mention you playing that clip, it's interesting, Hillary Clinton got the idea for saying what she said, and we talk about this in the book, from Philippe Reines, her spokesman. She was sitting around talking about Benghazi. She said to Reines, I don't understand. Why don't the Republicans get it? Meaning, that it was more important to capture these guys than their actual motivations. And Reines said look, everybody who's wanted to - everybody who's testified on the Hill has wanted to get up and shout what the hell difference does it make.
And so she ended up saying that. It's interesting, administration officials of sort of all ideological stripes and from different agencies seem to have the same feelings. We tell a story in the book about James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in classified session, and he was asked by somebody on the Intelligence Committee, you know, what did you learn from Benghazi?
And what Clapper said is what I learned from Benghazi is that it'll be a cold day in hell before we give you people talking points again. A lot of frustration from the administration that those talking points had become such a big issue when it was a request from Congress in the first place to get something that they could say publicly that wasn't divulging intelligence.
HOBSON: Amie, we just have a little bit of time left here, but I saw that David Brooks said over the weekend on "Meet the Press" that perhaps California Governor Jerry Brown could be a threat to Hillary Clinton in the primary for the 2016 election. Do you have any sense of who she's worried about on the left?
PARNES: You know, there could be a Biden race, a Democratic primary. We tell a really fun story in the book, actually, they're really good friends, I should say, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. So I don't expect it to be a particularly contentious race. But we tell a fun story about Joe Biden kind of running and dropping to his knees after she gave her convention speech in Denver. So that shows you - he was really happy with her speech. So that gives you an idea of the relationship between the two of them.
HOBSON: You also tell a story, of course, about David Petraeus giving up his bed on an airplane for Hillary Clinton once, but we'll have to save that for another day. Amy Parnes and Jonathan Allen, the new book is "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton." Thanks to both of you.
PARNES: Thanks, Jeremy.
ALLEN: Thank you, Jeremy.
HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.