Crisis In Hillaryland: The Press Gets There Late, Really Late

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary Clinton has been putting on a bright smile and a happy face, claiming to be unfazed by the swelling of Obamomentum which swept her rival to sweep every single state since Super Tuesday. Before yesterday's Potomac Primaries, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary hadn't been expected to win the caucus states, that Hillary hadn't expected to win Louisiana based on the black vote, that Hillary's new big enchiladas were Texas and Ohio upcoming on March 4th. She said so herself Monday:

"We had a great night on Super Tuesday. I'm still ahead in the popular vote and in delegates. We're each picking up delegates," she said. "I believe if you look at the states that are upcoming I am very confident. I am absolutely looking to Ohio and Texas, because we know that those are states where they represent the broad electorate in this country. They represent the kind of voters that are going to have to be convinced and won over in the general election."

Well, to paraphrase Dorothy, it isn't Super Tuesday anymore — one week later, and Obama has swept eight states, clean, and mostly it hasn't even been close (in truth, it hasn't even been close to close). Today he's ahead in the delegate count by well over a hundred (a whopping 136, according to the Obama campaign) and in the popular vote. Though the CW after Super Tuesday was that Hillary's next big chance to dominate would be in Texas and Ohio, her rather crushing defeat in the last two big election days has revealed just how precarious her candidacy is and has exposed the fault lines in her campaign.

Actually those fault lines were exposed with Michelle Cottle's piece, "
Putsch in Hillaryland
" in the New Republic at the end of January, but no one was really paying attention anymore, since after Hillary's win in New Hampshire talk of a campaign shake-up had faded. It seems like ages ago now, but on the day of the New Hampshire primary Hillary was all but considered dead, set up for her second stinging defeat against Barack Obama, who was substantially ahead in the polls. Everyone, including the Hillary campaign, thought she would lose big — one Hillary advisor later told me that they were just hoping to lose by less than ten points. There was talk of a big shake-up, and the word was that they were bringing in Maggie Williams, which everyone in the Hillary camp was excited about. But after New Hampshire surprised everyone — including Hillary — no great shakeups occurred.

Then came South Carolina, and the re-emergence of the Obamomentum meme — that he was unstoppable, floating on the wings of the Kennedys and a decisive win in South Carolina, one which put Hillary's most effective surrogate, Bill Clinton, firmly in his place besides. No one was making predictions, of course, but it seemed like another surge for Obama — that is, until Super Tuesday split down the middle, and Clinton held on to her primacy in the big states, and demonstrated the limits of Obamomentum in the state of Massachusetts.

Well, you know the rest — but the why wasn't readily apparent until Josh Green's excellent, illuminating piece on the Atlantic website yesterday. While it was common knowledge that Wiliams had come in to "assist" on the campaign post-NH, Solis-Doyle only officially "stepped down" as campaign manager on Sunday — and, beyond the visible implosion of the campaign, Green's is the first piece to really explain why.

While clearly no organization as tightly-run as Clinton's campaign can blame any one person, it appears that Solis-Doyle's mismanagement is responsible for much of what's gone wrong. Both Cottle and Green point out that Hillary prized her for her discipline and loyalty, but that she may have made a fatal error in judgment. Per Green:

As much as Clinton touts her own "executive experience" and judgment, she made Solis Doyle her campaign manager because of Solis Doyle's loyalty, rather than her skill, despite a trail of available evidence suggesting she was unsuited for the role.

How this manifested itself most plainly: Money. When Clinton's $5 million loan to herself came out the day after Super Tuesday, eyebrows shot up, but no one really dove into how it could possibly have happened. How could Clinton's war chest have been so depleted, even over a long campaign? Here's Green again:

[T]he campaign had hemorrhaged money, which Solis Doyle had managed to conceal... That the money was so obviously mismanaged and Clinton was essentially left helpless to compete in last weekend's primaries and caucuses is the reason Solis Doyle ultimately had to go. The problem, as before, was mismanagement — only this time against a worthy enough opponent that the cost was obvious to everyone.

In retrospect, it's amazing that this story took so long to emerge. Over at Swampland, Ana Marie Cox notes that Obama was running radio and TV ads in the D.C. area in advance of the primary, but that there was silence from Hillary. Obama's been running ads for a while now — not to mention one during the Superbowl, no less — so it's surprising that no one took a closer look at Hillary's so-called "strategy" and wondered if it was less of a blowing-off of the smaller states than it was the raw inability to compete. The problem may have been just how good her campaign is at message-management and deflection; the announcement of Clinton's post-Super Tuesday (and post-$5 million-loan revelation) online donation take gave her a boost that distracted from the larger bust happening just beyond the surface. Then on Monday, Patrick Healy revealed that the donors and superdelegates were getting restless, and that the campaign knew that it was Texas and Ohio or bust. Make-or-break. The comparisons to Rudy Giuliani were unmistakable, are unmistakable.

Who knows what will happen — that's the constant refrain of this campaign — but one thing is clear: All this happened under the nose of the press, and in retrospect, it's shocking that it didn't come out sooner. Green says that Clinton can still win Ohio and Texas, and that Williams could just work wonders; but until then, there's Wisconsin, and in the meantime, the Obamomentum rolls on. We shall see.
Inside the Clinton Shake-Up [The Atlantic]
Putsch in Hillaryland
[The New Republic]
For Clinton, Bid Hinges on Texas and Ohio [NYT]

Clinton Sees No Momentum Problem [MSNBC First Read]