Will Hillary Clinton's staff defections hurt her in 2016?

At least four of the top staffers from the Democrat's last presidential campaign won't re-up in 2016

Hillary Clinton in 2000
(Image credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Though Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as the early Democratic frontrunner should she decide to run for president in 2016, there are still questions about her presidential viability. Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another 2016 could-be, are already arguing that the Benghazi attacks while Clinton was secretary of State should "preclude her from holding higher office," ever.

If Clinton does run, her campaign will look very different than her star-crossed bid in 2008, says Jason Horowitz in The Washington Post. That's because at least four of her top campaign staffers — campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, policy director Neera Tanden, communications director Howard Wolfson, and chief strategist Mark Penn — say they won't sign up for another Clinton campaign.

The "Team of Rivals" that made up the core of Hillary 2008 all "express their requisite hope that Clinton will run and win," says Horowitz, but they don't look back on the campaign fondly. Solis Doyle tells The Washington Post that she's still suffering from "PTSD," and Wolfson has described the campaign as a "toxic bath." Besides, they've all moved on to other jobs: Wolfson is a deputy mayor for New York City's Michael Bloomberg (I), Solis Doyle cofounded a finance company called Vendor Assistance Program, Tanden is president the liberal Center for American Progress, and Penn is a senior executive at Microsoft.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Still, these defections raise an important, but overlooked, question for Clinton, says Horowitz: "With the former core team apparently intent on staying out, can Clinton rebuild an inner circle capable of running and winning a presidential campaign?"

A Clinton 2016 team "would likely be a combination of trusted former aides, as well as some new blood," say Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower at NBC News' First Read. And "that's often true for plenty of repeat presidential candidates." In this case, it also seemed inevitable: None of the core 2008 team went on to join Clinton at the State Department, and she actually fired Solis Doyle mid-campaign.

Yet there's another way to look at this Washington Post piece: It's a message to many outside of Hillary World, especially those who were critical of the '08 Hillary campaign, that the whole band won't be getting back together if she runs in '16. And those folks might see this as a positive development. [NBC News]

Some observers think "positive" is an understatement. "Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency in 2016 have increased by approximately a zillion percent," says Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. Mark Penn is "quite possibly the most incompetent and generally hackish consultant in U.S. political history," Waldman says, and it's probably just as well that the other three senior advisers sit this one out, too.

Clinton could have the best-run campaign in the world, but she won't even make it to the general election, predicts top Mitt Romney strategist Stu Stevens, who knows a thing or two about working for a losing campaign. "I would predict that if Hillary Clinton runs, she'll lose the primary," he told a National Review breakfast last week. "She's been around since the '70s," she still has the Iraq War vote hanging around her neck, and then there's Benghazi. "If I was a Democratic hot-shot politician, I would primary her so fast," he said.

Who does Stevens like on the Democratic side for 2016? John Hickenlooper, the moderate Colorado governor. But "I like the Republican bench better than the Democratic bench," he told reporters. And if any of the Republican 2016 hopefuls ask, Stevens says he is not burned out on presidential politics. "I'll just keep working campaigns," he said, "and do what I do."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.