7/30 Book Review: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign


[Welcome to day 7 of my 30/30 blog event. Catch up on the details.]

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign
Amie Parnes & Jonathan Allen
Non-fiction (contemporary politics)

Summary via publisher

It was never supposed to be this close. And of course she was supposed to win. How Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump is the tragic story of a sure thing gone off the rails. For every Comey revelation or hindsight acknowledgment about the electorate, no explanation of defeat can begin with anything other than the core problem of Hillary’s campaign–the candidate herself.

Through deep access to insiders from the top to the bottom of the campaign, political writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes have reconstructed the key decisions and unseized opportunities, the well-intentioned misfires and the hidden thorns that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss. Drawing on the authors’ deep knowledge of Hillary from their previous book, the acclaimed biography HRC, Shattered will offer an object lesson in how Hillary herself made victory an uphill battle, how her difficulty articulating a vision irreparably hobbled her impact with voters, and how the campaign failed to internalize the lessons of populist fury from the hard-fought primary against Bernie Sanders.

Moving blow-by-blow from the campaign’s difficult birth through the bewildering terror of election night, Shattered tells an unforgettable story with urgent lessons both political and personal, filled with revelations that will change the way readers understand just what happened to America on November 8, 2016.

Do I care about politics?

Not much. They’re contentious and I don’t like talking about them and I don’t usually like dwelling on them. So why would I read this book? Because I think Hillary Clinton is a fascinating person. Because I work in marketing and campaigning is just really extreme marketing. Because it sounded interesting.

I’ve shared articles before that analyze Clinton and how her personality hinders her in the political arena. As a woman whose personality isn’t especially helpful, I sympathize with that. Unfortunately, Shattered doesn’t explore that element of Hillary much as I would like.

What went wrong?

The summary doesn’t cover the weak spots of the campaign very well. In my reading, here are the 2 major mistakes of the campaign:

  1. Failure to articulate a clear vision
  2. Failure to integrate strategies (alternately, failure to cover their bases)

The Vision Problem

Vision is the area that Clinton herself may be most responsible for. It seems that she was focused on the details of policy and unable (or unwilling?) to create one clear message of her vision for America. I was particularly interested in this, as it’s basically a messaging issue. Clear, concise ideas are the foundation of political support. People are not whipped into a furor by policy, unfortunately. So the over-the-top but very easily remembered slogan from Trump may have been enough to doom her campaign from the start.

The Strategy Problem

Clinton’s 2016 campaign learned from the lessons of 2012 and trusted heavily in digital strategy. The campaign was run on data, every cent accounted for and no effort wasted for unnecessary votes. But, of course, they weren’t actually unnecessary. In his trust of date, Clinton’s campaign manager ignored the power of shaking hands and kissing babies. This too is a common marketing problem. When companies are too wrapped up in KPIs and ROI, they lose track of the unquantifiable benefits from softer strategies.

What about the book?

The authors demonstrate significant levels of access and their argument is straightforward. In fact, maybe too straightforward. I felt like they presented their view of the weaknesses of the campaign, then hammered proof in a slog through each step of the campaign year. To me, it felt repetitive. I think someone more interested in politics might enjoy it more, might supplement the stories on the paper with a better understanding of the context.

But I felt like nothing new was being added for much of the book and I was disappointed by that.

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