One emerging narrative of how the Clinton campaign ended up going from front-runner status to late-stage delegate scavengers is that hers was a good candidacy that got nibbled to death by the quacks with whom she chose to surround herself. Too often, the offstage players have brought unto themselves too much of the wrong sort of attention: the apparently profligate spending of Patti Solis Doyle, Howard Wolfson's constant denigration of whole voter slates as unimportant, and the lack of an apparent post-Super Tuesday plan are some of the examples of internal campaign failings that have put a drag on Clinton's candidacy.
A new article in this morning's L.A. Times continues this narrative, capturing a campaign so riven with infighting that the only thing the story lacks is an admonishment from Merkin Muffley that you can't fight in the war room. The article casts a wide net in general, but more or less comes up fingering two figures for the most blame: former President Bill Clinton and campaign strategist Mark Penn.
Some of this is hardly surprising. Bill Clinton's decision to mount a not-very-charming charm offensive in South Carolina is ripped apart again, depicted by a campaign aide as a quixotic "one-man mission" in territory that had already turned fallow, culminating in the former President's "Jesse Jackson" remark, which only ensured that the negatives from South Carolina would follow the New York Senator elsewhere.
But largely, the Times article is more bad news for Mark Penn. The big pull-quote from last week's New York Observer article on all things Penn was his confident negation of the need to emphasize Hillary Clinton's softer side: "Oh, come on, being human is overrated." In the Times' recounting, however, it looks like even that belief came out of some focus group:
The campaign produced a 60-second television ad before the Iowa caucuses that attempted to do so. In it, Clinton told the story of her mother leaving Chicago on a train at age 8, accompanied only by her 3-year-old sister, to live with grandparents in Los Angeles. It was a poignant story that campaign aides hoped would also highlight Clinton's interest in children's issues.
But Penn tested the advertisement with voters. He reported back that it did not play well in Iowa, and it never aired -- leaving some aides grumbling that an opportunity had been missed.
Now, according to the Times Penn is trying to downplay his involvement with the campaign, essentially sidelining himself as an unimportant player, and placing blame at the feet of his colleagues:
Penn said in an e-mail over the weekend that he had "no direct authority in the campaign," describing himself as merely "an outside message advisor with no campaign staff reporting to me."
"I have had no say or involvement in four key areas -- the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides. Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas."
Wolfson counters Penn's interpretation in the Times' story, saying "that it was Penn who had top responsibility for both its strategy and message."
UPDATE: Howard Wolfson called in to Morning Joe to defend Penn as an "integral part" of the campaign's success. Watch it: