There is much ground covered in Game Change and much that readers can take away from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's history of the 2008 election. But as Bob Woodward suggested today on the set of Morning Joe, a reader's guide to the headline-grabbing book may also be in order.
The Washington Post news legend focused on the part of the book that personally caused me the greatest concern. While I understand the news value of Harry Reid's brainless quotes on dialect and skin tone, I was most surprised by the observation of one of Hillary Clinton's top aides that the New York senator lacked the character to be President of the United States.
A few thoughts in defense of Secretary Clinton:
A good deal of the interviews for Game Change were written in the summer of 2008. To put that time frame in perspective, that was at the end of one of the longest, most grueling primary seasons in modern history.
The Clinton campaign endured a long political death march along a blistering trail that led them from the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire to the bars and bowling alleys of Pennsylvania to the emotionally charged and historic Democratic Convention in Denver. By the end of that brutish season, even the most loyal Clinton supporter could have been excused for temporarily losing their judgment due to exhaustion. Perhaps, in a weak moment, a Clinton supporter lashed out at their boss and blamed her for their spending a year away from family and friends in lousy hotel rooms in godforsaken settings. Maybe this staffer was stunned by Hillary's failure to close the deal in Iowa or plan beyond Super Tuesday. Maybe, just maybe, this person said something to the authors that they no longer believe.
I hope that is the case. Because what I saw throughout Hillary's 2008 campaign was a candidate who kept fighting back even after being badly wounded in Iowa, negligently served by her staff, and treated miserably by a biased press corps.
Hillary Clinton received what should have been a knockout blow in the election season's first contest by finishing behind Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa. The press smelled blood and rushed in for the quick kill. Pollsters began predicting her demise days before voters marched into the voting booths in New Hampshire. Even Bill Clinton apologized to a group of college supporters the night before the election for not being able to make his wife younger, more exciting, and more articulate.
I thought the 48 hours before the New Hampshire primary were the most humiliating any national figure of Hillary Clinton's stature had to endure in recent political history. It was a political execution that was broadcast across the world in slow motion. And it was ugly.
But Hillary Clinton had other plans. The New York senator shocked every pundit and pollster from Manchester to Manhattan, outperforming the final NH polls by a dozen points or more.
For the next few months, the Clinton campaign took one body blow after another. The media coverage was deplorable. In fact, it was so biased in some quarters that more than a few living legends of broadcast news privately shared with me the embarrassment they felt toward their own profession.
Still, Clinton kept fighting on.
We were told that like New Hampshire, Ohio would be Hillary's Waterloo. After all, Obama was outspending her there by a margin of 4 to 1.
She still won.
Then we were told that Barack Obama's victory in Texas would seal the deal and make history.
Hillary won again, despite again being outspent 4 to 1.
Then pundits told America that West Virginia would be a battleground for the type of blue collar voters that helped put JFK on the path to the White House in 1960. If Obama won there, like another young senator, he would be on his way to the Oval Office.
But Hillary won yet again, this time by an astounding 41 points.
The battle next shifted to Pennsylvania, where the two candidates would have a month to make their case to voters. We were told that Pennsylvania would be where Obama would finish Hillary off. After all, the more people got to know Barack Obama, the more they would like him. And, well, the opposite would surely be true of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Working class voters across the Rust Belt got that chance to meet Hillary Clinton up close and personal. So did suburban moms, rural farmers, and urban dwellers. Hillary was dramatically outspent on TV and badly outmaneuvered by a brilliant Obama ground game.
But at the end of a Tuesday night in April of 2008, Hillary Clinton had once again picked herself up off the floor and won an election that shouldn't have been close. In fact, this one wasn't close, but it was Barack Obama who found himself on the wrong side of a lopsided margin.
In the end, history caught up with the Clinton campaign. Hers was a battle that was doomed from the beginning by a mistaken belief that the Clinton machine would have the Democratic nomination sealed by Super Tuesday. Given her party's rules for awarding delegates, it was a miscalculation that caused Hillary the Democratic nomination and most certainly the presidency of the United States of America.
Character is rarely revealed in its sharpest contrast after a glorious victory. Instead, you find out what a person is made of after they sustain a soul crushing defeat. In her long, tortured march toward Denver, Hillary Clinton showed more character, more resilience, and more true grit than any presidential candidate I can recall.
And in that losing cause, Secretary Clinton served as a great example of character not only for my young daughter, but for us all. It is that type of strength that we need in our leaders now more than ever.
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