Answers to your questions about the Hillaryland memos

Josh Green, author of a new Atlantic piece about the crackup in Hillaryland, answers five questions from Salon's readers.

Published August 12, 2008 5:49PM (EDT)

Josh Green, whose blockbuster piece in the latest Atlantic just hit newsstands and the Web, took some time from his vacation -- beach time at that! -- to answer some of your questions. (Some readers submitted questions after I had to pick five and send them to Josh, so sorry if either yours was not picked or you came to War Room too late to get it in.) Anyway, here goes:

1. Did the Hillary campaign not get the irrational hatred factor? (submitted by Green Lantern)

Green: To a great extent, no. If you look at the tone of the e-mails and memos, particularly Mark Penn's, it's one of deep sympathy with the Clintons and indignity at the thought that anyone would think of them as anything less than admirable and plainly deserving of the presidency. It jumped out at me so much that I included, as a counterpoint, a favorite bit of political memorabilia, this memo from Karl Rove. Compare the tone of Rove's memo -- bracing and straightforward -- with Penn's. Big difference!

2. How weak was the Clinton team at the grass-roots level? The impression certainly was that the Obama people had built a far greater nationwide grass-roots effort, had more presence in the field, while the Clinton campaign seemed rooted in D.C., very much "astroturf" versus "grass roots," far more top-down versus bottom-up, and thus less flexible in its strategy and less responsive to challenges. (submitted by Slackie Onassis, also winner of "coolest screen name of any questioner")

Green: I think the chaos at the top filtered down to the grass roots. That's not a knock on Clinton's grass-roots folks, who were as passionate and committed as Obama's. But the lack of guidance and organization to harness their efforts and enthusiasm really cost her campaign.

3. From what you've read about McCain's campaign, isn't his campaign plagued by the same organizational disarray as Clinton's was? Is this type of organizational craziness avoidable if people with different perspectives are hired in upper echelon staff positions? (submitted by AMWinSF)

Green: Absolutely. Same staff rivalries, same backstabbing in the press, same sense of rolling calamity. I think the big difference is that because McCain essentially came back from the dead to win the nomination, he doesn't possess quite the same hubris as the Clinton team did, and therefore is a little more attuned to the chaos in his own camp. But having said that, he's allowed it to continue more or less intact. He's put off making the tough executive decisions in the same way Clinton did -- to her detriment.

4. What was the thinking behind that final nonconcession speech? Was it because of Penn's presentation, or something else? And, in a related theme, what was the reasoning behind not congratulating B.O. on his earlier victories? (submitted by David Blixt)

Green: Hard to say. Nobody laid it out in an e-mail (at least not one that I got my hands on). I attribute it to an unwillingness to believe that she'd actually lost, a refusal to come to terms with the reality of what had happened. Penn's presentation to the super-delegates was a last-ditch effort to swing them to Clinton's cause and win the nomination that way. But it was too little, too late.

5. It seems that toward the end of the primary, the weight of evidence led most to believe Mr. Obama was going to win. Do you have any idea if Mrs. Clinton ever became relegated to the fact she likely would not win even while she was still attacking and raising money? (submitted by zacgraves)

Green: Yes, she did. Especially after Geoff Garin replaced Mark Penn as chief strategist, there was a faction within her campaign highly sensitive to the fact that they probably could not win and concerned that continuing to run aggressively against Obama could seriously damage the eventual Democratic nominee. That's not to imply that they didn't try to win. They did. But my impression was that after May 6, the campaign took its foot off the gas pedal a bit and more or less ran out the clock.

My thanks for the great questions, and our thanks to Josh.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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