I guess taking a lead from Sunday's DailyKos post-mortem on the 2008 Democratic Primary, Clinton campaign strategist (and Jabba the Hutt impersonator) Mark Penn sat down with GQ to discuss Why She Lost.
With the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, there was no one in the primary race with higher negatives, as they say, than Mark Penn, her beleaguered chief strategist. Polarizing doesn’t begin to describe him—based on the unrelenting shitstorm of criticism hurled his way. From the loaded (did he really not know that California wasn’t winner-take-all, and did his firm really get paid $13 million?) to the just plain schoolyard-bully mean (he’s socially inept, nobody likes him, he has no friends!), it was brutal. Through it all, Penn never once defended himself, even as the Blame Penn chorus grew louder. And when he did put himself out there, to spin for Hillary, it didn’t always go so well, as in the infamous (last) time he went on Hardball to promise America that the Clinton campaign would not be making an issue of Obama’s college drug use, vowing that they wouldn’t be talking about the cocaine. Or the cocaine. Causing Joe Trippi to jump down his throat, in a live and excruciating moment, and Terry McAuliffe to tell him to stop.
Oh, and he also got demoted. But not really.
It couldn’t have been easy to be Mark Penn.
Ok, nobody likes Mark Penn; this is stuff we all know from reading The Great Orange Satan. Let's see what Penn has to say.
What does it feel like, now that it’s really over?
Well, you know, it’s obviously disappointing. I think that she had really found her stride. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it—we were winning primaries, and the leadership was all against her. I think the voters were out there very strongly pulling for her. She got more votes than anyone ever running for this office. Ever. And yet the superdelegates just decided that it was time. I think the voters didn’t. [laughs]
Asshole answer, right off the bat. Who won more states, Mark? Who won more delegates? Who, by any reasonable metric, won the popular vote? And how, exactly, did the voters decide that it wasn't "time"? Was there a magical July primary in the works for people who live in Fantasyland? You have to give rank-and-file Clinton supporters credit for passionate advocacy of their candidate, but once every voter gets a chance to cast a ballot, it's over, Mark, and to suggest otherwise is to engage in rank ignorance or blatant douchebaggery (or perhaps both).
How much of the reluctance to go after [Obama] at the beginning was because he’s a black candidate?
[clears throat] You know, I can’t answer that.
But there had to have been some concern about attacking the first black man who was a serious candidate for the presidency.
Well, but the word attack is a harsh word. If you point out somebody’s voting records, his attendance records, you know, if you point out how they differ with you on an answer of meeting with dictators, you know, that was a prime concern of a lot of people. It appeared to be the prime concern of a lot of people in the news media. Because the normal stories that would have been written about someone just never appeared. The truth of the matter was, there seemed to be an unlimited market for anything on Hillary and very little market for writing a story on Barack Obama and say, for example, his attendance in the Senate. There has still been no story written about something like that—as basic as something like that.
Quick google search of "obama AND cocaine" shows just how small that "little market for writing a story on Barack Obama" really was, and, incidentally, how big of an asshole Mark Penn is.
Why do you think the rest of the team was afraid to go after [Obama]?
I think they thought that her position on Iraq wasn’t strong enough to sustain a debate on Iraq.
Or popular enough.
Right. But her position, remember—we went through the early discussion of "Was it a mistake? Should she apologize?" Of course, the rest of the team wanted her to apologize. [laughs] And you know, she weathered that extremely well. She didn’t apologize, because she had given a speech outlining her position. On that day. And that speech held up. It actually explained why she voted for Iraq and why it was a sincere vote at the time.
I skipped the part where he tosses the rest of the Clinton team under the bus ("So it was you and the president against the rest of the campaign?" "Me and the president thought, Take him on, take him on early.") to focus on Mark Penn convincing Senator Clinton not to apologize for her bone-headed vote on AUMF, which frankly destroyed any chance she had of rallying the liberal wing of the party behind her.
In other words, Mark Penn takes credit for what was probably the biggest mistake of the Clinton campaign pre-Iowa, and in doing so manages to blame everyone else who worked their butts off to get Clinton the nomination.
How does it feel to know that you will probably be the fall guy?
Well, you know, I think when you lose, you’re just gonna take a pretty good dose of responsibility.
Yeah, let me know how that works out.
And you know what the media did with [Obama's failure to answer a question on driver's licenses]? Nothing. The media played it not at all.
So you feel the media had a narrative and they were sticking to it, regardless of what happened, one way or another?
Especially at that time. At that time, they did not come back. At a certain point here, when Saturday Night Live goes on, everybody realizes what a joke this has been, right? That the media has not been fair to her compared to him.
I think you have to realize that it was always anticipated that if things didn’t go well in Iowa—and Iowa was the toughest place—that there would be $25 million left in the kitty in order to go into the next round of states. Instead, the cupboard was bare...the group that did the budget had set a goal of raising 75 million and keeping 25 million aside. In fact, over a hundred million was raised, and 25 million wasn’t there...I think people are gonna spend some time looking at where the money went.
I was head of a team of message people, but not of the political organization, the resource allocation. If I did something wrong, it was not having reset the organization in a way that could be functional, to deal with some of the problems that later occurred. And I would have had to say—and I came very close to this a number of times—that this organization, you know, doesn’t work.
Ugh, that's all I can stomach. Read the rest if you can, to save us the displeasure. Suffice to say, even in defeat, Mark Penn still manages to piss me off.
UPDATE: I left out the biggest asshole comment of all:
You know, I’m not gonna blame the press.