Last week was a difficult one for Hillary Clinton.
It started with the leaked memo from Deputy Campaign Manager Mike Henry suggesting she skip the Iowa caucuses, a memo she apparently never even read but nonetheless had to spend days denying. And it ended with the leaks from two new, supposedly long-awaited (I’m not sure by whom) books that publishers are rushing into bookstores in the hopes that people’s appetite for old news and rehashed stories will carry them to the bestseller list. The most amazing thing about the books, at least based on the highlights being trumped in the press, is how many former Clinton staff people and supposed friends can’t resist seeing their names again in print. With friends like these ...
Let’s start with the Henry memo. I don’t know the guy personally, and he may be very good at many things. But writing a memo at this point arguing that Hillary should bypass Iowa is just plain stupid. First of all, even if that’s what you think, you don’t write it down and circulate it around the campaign. How many campaign memos will have to be leaked (so far, we’ve had Giuliani and Romney, and now Clinton) before staffers and consultants get the point that you can’t put on paper anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times or in the table of contents of the Drudge Report.
A “top secret” memo is an invitation to someone to prove how important they are by leaking it. The leaker can even convince himself that he’s doing the campaign a favor, by creating a public debate, or putting pressure on the candidate through the press, or getting an idea he disagrees with shot down. Sometimes the writer himself will leak it, to prove how important he is. After all, who had heard of Mike Henry before his infamous memo (although I have no idea who leaked it).
If you aren’t close enough to the candidate or her top strategist to actually talk to her, you shouldn’t be writing strategy memos. If you have to put it on paper to make the case, you don’t duplicate and circulate. If there’s more than one copy, that’s one too many. If Henry really believed the best course for the campaign was skipping Iowa, he should have had that conversation with Bill Clinton, who could have explained to him very easily why he was wrong.
That’s the second problem with the Henry memo. Over the years, many candidates have tried to skip Iowa, but it never works. They end up getting sucked in, at least to the debates, and making a token presence, and then taking heat when they lose. Ronald Reagan skipped Iowa in 1980 and had to fight back to avoid losing the nomination that was assumed to be his until then. Al Gore skipped Iowa in 1988 and never got off the ground afterward. The only way you can skip Iowa is if someone from Iowa is running as the favorite son, as happened in 1992. Otherwise, if you skip Iowa, you lose Iowa, with all the negatives that come with it.
Moreover, even if you think this conventional wisdom about having to compete in Iowa is wrong, it’s still too late now for Hillary to change course. She has been campaigning in Iowa, and hiring staff there, and opening offices. As of now, she has 10 campaign offices, and a network of staff and volunteers across the state. At this point, she’s simply too far along in the process to “skip” Iowa; she’s already there. She would have to withdraw from Iowa, pull out, acknowledge defeat and take the heat for it for the next six months. Why do that to yourself voluntarily?
What the Hillary campaign does need to do, obviously, is reduce expectations for Iowa. You can win the nomination without winning Iowa, provided you don’t set the state up as a “must win.” It’s all about adjusting expectation to fit your prospects. If you want to leak an Iowa memo to the press and you’re on Hillary’s team, write one about how of course you expect Edwards to win, because he almost won in 2004 and has been practically living there for years, and you expect Obama, who comes from the neighboring state, with overlapping media markets, to do his best there, but that Hillary needs only to finish a respectable third to go on to win New Hampshire. The bronze is enough to win the gold a week later. Instead, Henry’s memo implicitly buys into the notion that if Hillary competes and loses, she’s in trouble, which is exactly the opposite of the expectation she needs to create.
Then there are the books. I remember when Carl Bernstein called me to interview me about Hillary. My first response, having read every Hillary book in preparation for writing The Case for Hillary Clinton, was: Why? Why another Hillary book? What could you possibly find that hasn’t been written about before? The answer, of course, is nothing.
If anyone in America has been investigated to death, it’s Hillary Clinton. I didn’t talk to Bernstein, but obviously many former staffers and acquaintances did. As his former partner Bob Woodward has proven, a pink call slip with the name of a famous reporter on it is, for many people who should know better, all but irresistible. Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta may not be household names the way Bernstein is, but in the political world, reporters for the New York Times always get their calls returned.
But is there anything new? No.
News flash: Hillary Clinton is an ambitious woman. She has always been ambitious. So what? If she weren’t, she wouldn’t be running for president. Rudy Giuliani, as far as I know, has always been ambitious. Mitt Romney has always been ambitious. Every member of the Senate I know sees a president when he shaves in the morning. Is there something wrong with that?
News flash: Hillary Clinton put up with her husband’s infidelity, even though it hurt and troubled her, and at various points along the way both of them contemplated life apart. Did you not know that? How many couples do you know who’ve been married 30 years without ever contemplating divorce?
News flash: Hillary Clinton was responsible for the failure of the health care plan that she put together in 1993. This is news? She’ll tell you the same thing, and what she learned from the experience, and why she will do things differently if she has the opportunity. You can save the money on the books and just ask her.
News flash: Hillary Clinton was the point person dealing with lawyers and investigators on a number of investigations of the Clintons’ personal and business affairs. Of course she was. She’s a great lawyer. She was the President’s partner. Why shouldn’t she be the point person?
Have you had enough yet?
The only serious charge I can find in any of the highlights of the two books is the claim by Gerth and Van Natta that Hillary did not personally read the entire National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before voting to authorize the president to use force. I don’t know whether she sat down and read it or not, but she was briefed repeatedly on its contents, which is how things generally work in Washington. If you want to spend $25 or so to learn that, good luck. As for me, I’d rather spend it on a good movie.
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Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.