THE BLOG
04/06/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2013

Hillary's Two Big Initial Decisions: Old Guard vs. Millennials, and Big vs. Lean Campaign Team

If she remains healthy, Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. This observation has nothing to do with polls or policies. It has everything to do with the last four years in which: a) she attained independent (of Bill) accolades for an extraordinary tenure as Secretary of State; b) Bill Clinton has taken Walter Cronkite's position as "the most trusted person in America"; and c) the gods have aligned so that the U.S. is not just ready for, but in dire need of, its first female president.

The road to the White House, however, will require two major initial decisions. The first is whether she embraces the old guard, those who helped them achieve the Bill Clinton presidencies and her 2008 primary victories, or whether she opts for the new, digitized millennial run campaigns that brought Barack Obama two presidential victories.

The easy, but wrong, decision is "both." That is, that she can have the big enchiladas pontificating about policy and strategy, with the young turks doing voter reach-out and get out the vote. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The key decision is "who is in charge?" Without for a moment denigrating the extraordinary achievements of the Clinton "old guard" in bringing them to power, in the 1990s, this is a new era, and there are nuances and gut reactions and creative strategies that a millennial will have that will not even dawn on the old guard. Having the old guard integrally involved, moreover, will only set up rivalries and uncertainties.

I strongly urge the former senator and Secretary of State to make some early difficult decisions, warmly but firmly telling the old guard that her campaign is going to be run by a new generation, from stem to stern. That means everything from organization to outreach, from policy to surrogate appearances on TV... everything. Coordination is key. Quick decision-making is vital. Ego trips, hurt feelings, and so forth will just muck it up.

The second decision she needs to make is whether to establish a large campaign "bureaucracy," so that everyone who wants to help has some role and title. It is the perennial problem of frontrunners who will have a lot of early money and many people who want to help. No one has ever been as much of a frontrunner as Hillary Clinton is now. The enthusiasm will be overwhelming, everyone will want to be in on it.

But, like the old guard vs. millennial decision, she should opt for a lean campaign that can respond rapidly, and is geared not toward making long-time friends and well-wishers happy, but only toward her winning, and winning big. To prevent the inevitable turf wars among the long-term confidants, she needs to prevent them in the first place by excluding them from the campaign operation, and clearly empowering a new group of managers. And, to prove to the new group that she is firmly committed to her decision, she cannot let the old guard go "around them."

One should not diminish the difficulty of making these decisions. An entire mini-industry of ex-Clinton operatives have been waiting, many squirreled away in think tanks or allied with the ex-president's Global Initiative. Many are knowledgeable, have some or a lot of experience, and "expect" their long-term loyalties and connections to be rewarded.

But, as difficult and painful as they may be, these decisions are for the good of Hillary's campaign and for the good of the country. Those who are truly loyal and truly want her to succeed should understand.

A special word about the generally reviled Mark Penn. There is an old military adage that one should never put the same general in charge of two wars. The reason is human nature: there would be an irresistible urge to try to prove that the mistakes made in the earlier war were not really mistakes. So, even if Mark Penn's firm had a spotlessly ethical reputation, even if Mark Penn himself had evolved, it would be an enormous mistake to give him any role whatsoever in her 2016 campaign. Hillary's campaign is not for the purpose of enabling Mark Penn to redeem himself. (Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I and was roundly criticized for the disaster at Gallipoli. In the Second World War, as Prime Minister, he urged an invasion through the Crimea, but was turned down. And, Mark Penn is no Winston Churchill.)

Hillary Clinton should, in short, do everything to maximize her stature as a decisive steward of the country. She has earned it from her achievements. It is an asset she should jealously guard and protect.

Nothing will propel her more certainly and triumphantly to the White House than brandishing her persona as a strong leader. A large or squabbling campaign would tarnish that image. She must avoid it.