I was eager to read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. There was a lot of buzz about some of the nuggets within it prior to its debut this week. It is described as a real insider story on Hillary’s defeat in the 2016 Election. Unfortunately, the teasers for the book that have been appearing in the media were the equivalent of a comedy movie that puts all of the best jokes in the trailer. You’ve already seen the best reveals if you’ve read any of the articles about it.
I didn’t see many revelations that hadn’t already been known, rumored, or guessed already. I’ll say up front that if you were expecting a book that would portray Hillary in a bad or embarrassing light, you’ll be disappointed (or not, depending on your views). In fact, I got the impression that the authors were more sympathetic to her than not, though I stop short of saying that they were obviously biased toward her.
I’m not going to lie. What I was mostly looking forward to was a vivid description of her rumored Election Night meltdown. There isn’t one. In this telling, she was dignified and dutiful to the last. I don’t personally believe it. The book mentioned early on about how terrified her staff was at various times of giving her negative feedback or bad news, but we’re supposed to accept that she accepted both Comey re-opening the email investigation 10 days before the election and her surprise defeat with stoic pride. None of that legendary temper of hers peeped up at the worst of times? Obama had to call on Election Night to talk her off the ledge but she was perfectly fine? Okay, whatever, I don’t care.
Much of the book is a slog to read through. It’s pretty boring. There were details on strategy, staffing re-assignments, and speech-writing which some political nerds might find enthralling, I suppose. For most readers, I think they’d find it to be mind-numbingly dull.
That said, there were a few things that I found to be interesting.
For one, Hillary did an exceptional job controlling leaks despite an enormous amount of turmoil among the campaign staff. She did this by relying primarily on people she trusted, compartmentalizing information, and reassigning staffers who screwed up to benign and powerless positions rather than firing them so they wouldn’t blab to the press.
Unfortunately, her control issues caused no small amount of trouble within the campaign. Particularly with regard to her over-reliance on Huma Abedin (who was a time bomb for the campaign because of her scumbag husband). The authors could have possibly made the story about how the campaign was doomed because of Hillary’s secretive nature and preference for interacting with an exclusive circle of sycophants who had their own issues, but they didn’t.
Oh, and the authors clarified, in my mind, that Bernie Sanders was committed to winning all the way til the end. I never thought so, honestly. It was always my opinion that he was just trying to push Hillary and the party platform as far Left as possible. I appreciated that the authors explained how Bernie exploited the same white working class grievances that Trump did (more successfully) but couldn’t win because of the Hillary campaign’s control of the party apparatus and superior understanding of the delegate system. They certainly did a great job of explaining why Bernie’s campaign was doomed, at least.
The inside account of how the campaign lost Michigan during the primary was also intriguing. There were indeed flaws with the analytical models but is that what doomed her? The authors might have said that the campaign was doomed because Hillary’s arrogance led her to ignore the results of the primary in Michigan and Wisconsin and that her critical losses in those states during the general election were because of this, but no.
They never seem to want to pin the blame on some flaw in Hillary’s character. That would have made a compelling story. It could have been written as a tragedy instead of a dry chronological recitation of somebody’s notes from off-the-record conversations. It sucks because there’s definitely a dramatic and gripping story to be told.
I have some assorted nitpicks too.
First, the authors repeatedly refer to Robby Mook as a “Millennial”. He isn’t. He’s a Nintendo Wave Gen-Xer (b. 1979). His primary characteristics are independence and pragmatism, as described in the book, and they aren’t Millennial ones.
Next, the authors repeatedly use the “he was thinking this” narrative device far too often and it’s usually cringe-worthy. They defend it at the end of the book, claiming that they were channeling the supposed thoughts that people had based on statements they made and other attitudes that they seemed to express at other times. But it comes across as absurd. Here’s an example:
But comparisons with Bernie irritated Obama no end (sic), and he could be heard grumbling about them in the West Wing. No serious person would really compare me to Bernie, Obama thought–and hoped.
See what I mean? Much of the dialogue is equally unconvincing and doesn’t even come across as the way real people speak.
Another nitpick is that they claim Hillary won all three debates. I disagree with that. Hillary cleanly won the first and might have edged Trump out in the third.
But Trump won the second debate with his “You’d be in jail” bombshell. It was not only the most memorable line from all three debates, but the applause it garnered foreshadowed how damaging the email scandal ultimately was to Hillary. It’s not even mentioned in the book.
The authors cited data elsewhere that showed that Comey re-opening the investigation pretty much sunk Hillary in Ohio and there are several other points at which they emphasize how decisive the scandal was from the primary to Election Day. Really: was the fact Hillary used a private email server the reason she was doomed from the get-go? If so, why not illustrate how well Trump exploited it in a debate before Comey re-opened the investigation? Hell, the authors could have gone back to the Hillary’s secret nature thing and showed how it led to setting up the private server and ultimately brought her down.
Last one: the tone is uneven. 90% of it is even-keeled prose, but there are a few occasions in which the authors turn into Tumblr bloggers for no apparent reason and start throwing in color commentary that clashes with the tone of the rest of the book. Here is one of the out of place excerpts:
She was ripshit over the confluence of calamities in Michigan. Her senior aides and advisers all got reamed–she even made an example of Sullivan–the day after the Michigan primary
She was also pissed that the media narrative out of that primary night was about the Michigan loss and all but ignored the fact that she’d beaten the living hell out of Sanders in Mississippi.
Those are both on the same page. Then it goes back to the normal for a few pages before it pops up again. It’s almost as if the authors were using raw quotes and not identifying them as quotes. The book really isn’t terribly well put together. It’s likely that there were a few areas in which one of the authors just sent a passage about an incident described in his or her notes to the other one and it was just thrown in without any revision.
Where Shattered fails is that it doesn’t explain why Hillary’s campaign was “doomed” at all.
The authors discuss the email scandal early on and how the campaign initially laughed it off because they thought it was clear that Hillary had done nothing illegal, but gradually became horrified at how long it dragged on without her being either up front or apologetic about it until a few months later.
They missed the opportunity to make the case why the campaign was doomed and develop a great morality play out of it. They do cite staffers who alternately blame Comey, Russia, misogyny, bad analytical models, lack of resources, and numerous other causes for the loss but they never put it all together. Worse, They don’t seem to even want to entertain the possibility that Hillary herself was the problem. She had enormous advantages going in and managed to blow it somehow.
Everything should have gone her way. She had the better organization, a strong resume, more donations, a friendly relationship with the media (which may be an understatement from what Wikileaks taught us), a somewhat popular president campaigning for her, previous experience running for president, a competent campaign team, and on and on and on. Why did she lose?
They danced around that conclusion at times by noting how the email scandal affected the perception of her and plunged her “trustworthiness” in polls, but never tie it all together in any sort of meaningful conclusion about her.
I’ll tell you why this book was doomed: I don’t think this is the book the authors intended or even wanted to write when they started it. The authors declared in the prologue that they had thought when they started interviewing people involved with the campaign that they expected to be documenting the ascension of the first woman president. Instead, they had to tell the story about how the candidate they admired lost, somehow without blaming her for it.
By making better use of their impressive research and testimonies and weaving it into a relatable story, they could have made this work. Instead, they rushed this out, seemingly for no other reason than to keep the material from going to waste. I’m sorry to say that it has.
In conclusion, I recommend that you avoid this book. It doesn’t provide anything new nor is it a particularly good story. Further, it is poorly written and badly cobbled together. It’s a shame they didn’t spend a few more more months on it.
Yeah, I was disappointed. Don’t spend money on this one, guys.