Former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile writes in a new book that she seriously contemplated setting in motion a process to replace Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee with then-Vice President Biden in the aftermath of Clinton’s fainting spell, in part because Clinton’s campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”
This story has been updated to clarify the process that Donna Brazile considered initiating to have Hillary Clinton replaced as the Democratic presidential nominee. As interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, Brazile was not empowered to replace her unilaterally. Reactions from former Clinton campaign officials have also been added.
In an explosive new memoir, Brazile details widespread dysfunction and dissension throughout the Democratic Party, including secret deliberations over using her powers as interim DNC chair to initiate the process of removing Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) from the ticket after Clinton's Sept. 11, 2016, collapse in New York City.
Brazile writes that she considered a dozen combinations to replace the nominees and settled on Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the duo she felt most certain would win over enough working-class voters to defeat Republican Donald Trump. But then, she writes, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”
Brazile paints a scathing portrait of Clinton as a well-intentioned, historic candidate whose campaign was badly mismanaged, took minority constituencies for granted and made blunders with “stiff” and “stupid” messages. The campaign was so lacking in passion for the candidate, she writes, that its New York headquarters felt like a sterile hospital ward where “someone had died.”
Brazile alleges that Clinton’s top aides routinely disrespected her and put the DNC on a “starvation diet,” depriving it of funding for voter turnout operations.
As one of her party’s most prominent black strategists, Brazile also recounts fiery disagreements with Clinton’s staffers — including a conference call in which she told three senior campaign officials, Charlie Baker, Marlon Marshall and Dennis Cheng, that she was being treated like a slave.
“I’m not Patsey the slave,” Brazile recalls telling them, a reference to the character played by Lupita Nyong’o in the film, “12 Years a Slave.” “Y’all keep whipping me and whipping me and you never give me any money or any way to do my damn job. I am not going to be your whipping girl!”
Cheng, the campaign’s national finance director, did not participate in this call, according to a senior Clinton campaign official.
Brazile's book, titled "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House," will be released Tuesday by Hachette Books. A copy of the 288-page book was obtained in advance by The Washington Post.
Former Clinton campaign officials strongly disputed some details in Brazile's account as well as her overall characterization of the campaign, and they disparaged her memoir as an effort to sell books and manufacture drama.
More than 100 former senior aides issued an open letter Saturday night reading, "We do not recognize the campaign she portrays in the book.
“We were shocked to learn the news that Donna Brazile actively considered overturning the will of the Democratic voters by attempting to replace Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as the Democratic Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees,” the letter began. “It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponent, about our candidate's health.”
Perhaps not since George Stephanopoulos wrote "All Too Human," a 1999 memoir of his years working for former president Bill Clinton, has a political strategist penned such a blistering tell-all.
In it, Brazile reveals how fissures of race, gender and age tore at the heart of the operation — even as Clinton was campaigning on a message of inclusiveness and trying to assemble a rainbow coalition under the banner of “Stronger Together.”
A veteran operative and television pundit who had long served as DNC's vice chair, Brazile abruptly and, she writes, reluctantly took over in July 2016 for chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Florida congresswoman was ousted from the DNC on the eve of the party convention after WikiLeaks released stolen emails among her and her advisers that showed favoritism for Clinton during the competitive primaries.
Brazile describes her mounting anxiety about Russia’s theft of emails and other data from DNC servers, the slow process of discovering the full extent of the cyberattacks and the personal fallout. She likens the feeling to having rats in your basement: “You take measures to get rid of them, but knowing they are there, or have been there, means you never feel truly at peace.”
Brazile writes that she was haunted by the still-unsolved murder of DNC data staffer Seth Rich and feared for her own life, shutting the blinds to her office window so snipers could not see her and installing surveillance cameras at her home. She wonders whether Russians had placed a listening device in plants in the DNC executive suite.
At first, Brazile writes of the hacking, top Democratic officials were “encouraging us not to talk about it.” But she says a wake-up moment came when she visited the White House in August 2016, for President Obama’s 55th birthday party. National security adviser Susan E. Rice and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. separately pulled her aside to urge her to take the Russian hacking seriously, which she did, she writes.
That fall, Brazile says she tried to persuade her Republican counterparts to agree to a joint statement condemning Russian interference but that they ignored her messages and calls.
Backstage at a debate, she writes, she approached Sean Spicer, then-chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, but “I could see his eyes dart away like this was the last thing he wanted to talk to me about.” She asked RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, too, but “I got that special D.C. frost where the person smiles when he sees you but immediately looks past you trying to find someone in the room to come right over and interrupt the conversation.”
There would be no joint statement.
The WikiLeaks releases included an email in which Brazile, a paid CNN contributor at the time, shared potential topics and questions for a CNN town hall in advance with the Clinton campaign. She claims in her book that she did not recall sending the email and could not find it in her computer archives. Nevertheless, she eventually admitted publicly to sending it, believing her reputation would have suffered regardless.
At the Oct. 19 debate in Las Vegas, with the email scandal simmering, the Clinton campaign sat Brazile not in the front row — where she had been at the previous debate — but in bleachers out of view of cameras. She recalls watching the debate with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, “among others whom they had to invite but wanted to tuck away.”
Brazile describes in wrenching detail Clinton’s bout with pneumonia. On Sept. 9, she saw the nominee backstage at a Manhattan gala and she seemed “wobbly on her feet” and had a “rattled cough.” Brazile recommended Clinton see an acupuncturist.
Two days later, Clinton collapsed as she left a Sept. 11 memorial service at Ground Zero in New York. Brazile blasts the campaign’s initial efforts to shroud details of her health as “shameful.”
Whenever Brazile got frustrated with Clinton’s aides, she writes, she would remind them that the DNC charter empowered her to initiate the replacement of the nominee. If a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee a complicated process of filling the vacancy that would include a meeting of the full DNC.
After Clinton’s fainting spell, some Democratic insiders were abuzz with talk of replacing her — and Brazile says she was giving it considerable thought.
The morning of Sept. 12, Brazile got a call from Biden’s chief of staff saying the vice president wanted to speak with her. She recalls thinking, “Gee, I wonder what he wanted to talk to me about?” Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), called, too, to set up a call with his boss, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley sent her an email.
Brazile also was paid a surprise visit in her DNC office by Baker, who, she writes, was dispatched by the Clinton campaign “to make sure that Donna didn’t do anything crazy.”
“Again and again I thought about Joe Biden,” Brazile writes. But, she adds, “No matter my doubts and my fears about the election and Hillary as a candidate, I could not make good on that threat to replace her.”
Neither Baker nor any other senior campaign official were aware that Brazile had any thoughts about or actively contemplated changing the ticket, a senior Clinton campaign official said Saturday.
“Charlie may well have been there to talk her out of doing something crazy, but it certainly was not about this,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Brazile writes that she inherited a national party in disarray, in part because President Obama, Clinton and Wasserman Schultz were “three titanic egos” who had “stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes.”
Brazile writes that she inherited Wasserman Schultz’s office — with “tropical pink” walls that she found hard on the eyes — and “ridiculous” perks, such as a Chevrolet Tahoe with driver and a personal entourage that included an assistant known as a body woman.
In her first few days on the job, Brazile writes that she also discovered the DNC was $2 million in debt and that the payroll was stacked with “hangers-on and sycophants.” For instance, Wasserman Schultz kept two consulting firms — SKDKnickerbocker and Precision Strategies — each on $25,000-a-month retainers, and one of Obama’s pollsters was still being paid $180,000 a year.
“The outgoing president no longer needed to assess his approval ratings or his policy decisions, at least not when the Democratic Party was fighting for its survival against a hostile foreign power,” she writes.
Jen O'Malley-Dillon, a partner at Precision Strategies, defended her firm's work for the DNC. “We worked hard to get the party's technology, infrastructure and ground operations in shape for the general election, regardless of the nominee,” she wrote Saturday in an email. “There was no gravy train and we are proud of our work.”
Brazile also details how Clinton effectively took control of the DNC in August 2015, before the primaries began, with a joint fundraising agreement between the party and the Clinton campaign.
She said the deal gave Clinton control over the DNC’s finances, strategy and staff decisions — disadvantaging other candidates, including Sanders. “This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity,” she writes.
An excerpt of this chapter — titled "Bernie, I Found the Cancer" — was published Thursday in Politico, sparking discord and recriminations through the party.
As she traveled the country, Brazile writes, she detected an alarming lack of enthusiasm for Clinton. On black radio stations, few people defended the nominee. In Hispanic neighborhoods, the only Clinton signs she saw were at the campaign field offices.
But at headquarters in New York, the mood was one of “self-satisfaction and inevitability,” and Brazile’s early reports of trouble were dismissed with “a condescending tone.”
Brazile describes the 10th floor of Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, where senior staff worked: “Calm and antiseptic, like a hospital. It had that techno-hush, as if someone had died. I felt like I should whisper. Everybody’s fingers were on their keyboards, and no one was looking at anyone else. You half-expected to see someone in a lab coat walk by.”
During one visit, she writes, she thought of a question former Democratic congressman Tony Coelho used to ask her about campaigns: “Are the kids having sex? Are they having fun? If not, let’s create something to get that going, or otherwise we’re not going to win.”
“I didn’t sense much fun or [having sex] in Brooklyn,” she deadpans.
Brazile writes that Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and his lieutenants were so obsessed with voter data and predictive analytics that they “missed the big picture.”
"They knew how to size up voters not by meeting them and finding out what they cared about, what moved their hearts and stirred their souls, but by analyzing their habits," she writes. "You might be able to persuade a handful of Real Simple magazine readers who drink gin and tonics to change their vote to Hillary, but you had not necessarily made them enthusiastic enough to want to get up off the couch and go to the polls."
Brazile describes Mook, in his mid-30s, as overseeing a patriarchy. “They were all men in his inner circle,” she writes, adding: “He had this habit of nodding when you are talking, leaving you with the impression that he has listened to you, but then never seeming to follow up on what you thought you had agreed on.”
Many of Clinton’s senior staff were women, including Mook’s chief of staff, as well as campaign co-chair Huma Abedin.
Brazile's criticisms were not reserved for Mook. After Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri challenged Brazile's plan for Kaine to deliver a pep talk to DNC staff at the party convention in Philadelphia, Brazile writes, "I was thinking, If that b---- ever does anything like that to me again, I'm gonna walk."
Palmieri on Saturday disputed Brazile's account, tweeting: “Sad to learn she feels this way about me. Don't recall request she refers to.”
Brazile writes with particular disdain about Brandon Davis, a Mook protege who worked as a liaison between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. She describes him as a spy, saying he treated her like “a crazy, senile old auntie and couldn’t wait to tell all his friends the nutty things she said.”
In staff meetings, Brazile recalls, "Brandon often rolled his eyes as if I was the stupidest woman he'd ever had to endure on his climb to the top. He openly scoffed at me, snorting sometimes when I made an observation."
Brazile opens her book by describing the painful days following Clinton’s defeat. She received calls of gratitude from party leaders but still felt slighted.
"I never heard from Hillary," she writes. "I knew what I wanted to say to her and it was: I have nothing but respect for you being so brave and classy considering everything that went on. But in the weeks after the loss, every time I checked my phone thinking I might have missed her call, it wasn't her."
Finally, in February 2017, Clinton rang.
“This was chitchat, like I was talking to someone I didn’t know,” Brazile writes. “I know Hillary. I know she was being as sincere as possible, but I wanted something more from her.”