The story of the moment in Clinton World is that Hillary Clinton is considering a campaign staff shake-up after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, which, barring a huge surprise, she will lose to Sen. Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.
Whether she actually makes some changes or not, the media narrative about internal discord isn't a great one, as the Boston Globe's Matt Viser pointed out on Twitter.
Not the story you want before voters here even vote: Clinton weighing staff shakeup after NH. https://t.co/5vwl4sLQ60
— Matt Viser (@mviser) February 8, 2016
But as The Fix's Chris Cillizza argued yesterday, Clinton ought to include herself — and her husband, commander in chief turned surrogate in chief Bill Clinton — in any review.
The lone, major common thread between the 2008 campaign and the 2016 campaign is Hillary (and Bill) Clinton. Which raises that most uncomfortable of possible explanations for the problems experienced by Hillary Clinton in her two presidential campaigns: It's the candidate.
You know who agrees? David Axelrod, former senior political adviser to President Obama and now a CNN analyst.
When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns, with different staff, at what point do the principals say, "Hey, maybe it's US?"
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) February 8, 2016
A Clinton critique from Axelrod is hardly surprising. As I've written before, he has often called attention to what he considers flaws in her campaign. That's part of his job as a commentator today, and it was a big part of his job when he was helping Obama defeat Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.
What made this tweet particularly interesting, however, was the timing: It followed Politico's original report on the possible shake-up, of course, but the tweet and report just happened to coincide with the latest episode of "The Axe Files," Axelrod's political podcast, which just happened to feature Clinton pollster Joel Benenson as the guest.
And Benenson — who worked with Axelrod on both Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 — just happened to be the aide singled out in Politico's report as being on "thin ice."
The podcast was recorded last Thursday, so there was no discussion of Benenson's job status, specifically, or of internal friction generally. But Axelrod did delve into some of the problems he sees in Clinton's campaign — in greater detail than Twitter's 140 characters allow — and he even got Benenson to acknowledge one. Kind of.
(The good part starts at 30:44.)
"I know her pretty well, and I know she has prodigious talents, in terms of policy and her tenacity and all of that," Axelrod said. "I've never thought of her as a particularly great performer on the stump, and she has the misfortune of being pinioned between the two greatest political talents of our time, when it comes to that — Barack Obama and Bill Clinton."
Axelrod went on to say that Clinton appears to be someone who would rather be in a room with a bunch of policy experts trying to solve problems than out talking to voters. Campaigning "doesn’t seem like her first passion," he concluded.
"I think to some extent it's true," Benenson conceded. "It may not be her first passion, but she understands that we need politics."
(Side note: This sounds A LOT like critiques of Jeb Bush, who is in considerably worse position than Clinton right now in the GOP primary.)
Bingo. Clinton is a good-but-not-great candidate because she doesn't love being a candidate. She loves being in office. Campaigning is just something she has to do to get there.
It seems it's always been this way. There was a terrific passage Monday in the New York Times' equally terrific retrospective on Bill Clinton's "Comeback Kid" performance in the 1992 New Hampshire primary. Several former aides recounted the intense media scrutiny of Bill Clinton's relationship with Gennifer Flowers and his reluctance to join the war in Vietnam. David Matthews, a friend from Arkansas who joined the Clintons on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, recalled one particularly candid moment at a hotel.
"Bill leaves to give another speech, and Hillary has got her shoes off and her feet up, just kind of resting," Matthews said. "And she looked at me and said, 'You know, David, if I didn't really believe we could change the world, it would not be worth this.' "
Plenty of politicians probably feel that way; it's perfectly understandable.
But it's also noticeable (or, at least, it can be) to voters who want to feel like candidates love spending time with them. And it sure doesn't help Hillary Clinton's cause to have the Times or David Axelrod call attention to her dim view of campaigning at a time when her opponent is a populist who seems to love nothing more than to work one of his humongous crowds.