In an article arguing that “sniping by aides hurt Clinton’s image as manager,” this quote from senior adviser Harold Ickes doesn’t help:
“It’s hard to draw conclusions about her management style,” he said, “because she is, in fact, not the manager of her campaign.”
The image projected in the piece is that Clinton has left most decision-making to a small team of aides, with no single point of authority. In principle, she should have been that final voice, but Mr. Ickes claim that she isn’t running the show is borne out by others interviewed.
As Professor James Thurber told the Times “She hasn’t managed anything as complex as this before; that’s the problem with senators. She wasn’t as decisive as she should have been. And it’s a legitimate question to ask: Under great pressure from two different factions, can she make some hard decisions and move ahead? It seems to just fester. She doesn’t seem to know how to stop it or want to stop it.”
This problem with senators, of course, applies to all three major presidential contenders. None have served in executive office, so the way all three run their campaigns is the best guide we’ve got for how they’d run a massive national organization. McCain has been cautious and risk-averse, exploiting his enemies’ weaknesses without pushing his own message. He has also had trouble raising money, and early on burned through his donations at an astonishing rate.
Clinton ran a traditional campaign, heavy on endorsements and traditional media outreach. She used her donations for paid staff and whipped up votes by bringing her connections and power to bear on voters. She’s focused on the bare minimum number of states she thought she needed to win the nomination, which forced her to scramble and run up debt when Obama showed unexpected strength in Iowa and New Hampshire, and again when he did better than she expected on Feb. 5. Her fundraising would have been exceptional in previous years, but has been overshadowed by Obama’s astonishing draw, and her donors tend to be wealthier, giving the maximum donations allowable.
Obama has raised more from small donors, meaning his total donor base is much larger, even ignoring the much larger amounts he’s raised. He also ran a campaign focused on the grassroots. Through the internet and new media, he’s been able to run a 50-state campaign, providing activists across the country with the ability to build their own ground operations, based on their own knowledge of local conditions. In Texas, his paid staff (smaller than Clinton’s) was able to pick up long-standing networks of supporters created by volunteers, and volunteers around the country donated time to make phone calls in Texas and other states. There has been no notable staff dissension, even as the campaign hit setbacks in Texas and Ohio.
My inclination is to favor Obama’s management style. It’s in many ways a larger campaign than the Clinton operation, in terms of territory covered and in terms of total staff (paid and volunteer). I like the democratic approach, and the sense in which it focuses on empowering supporters, rather than building up the candidate. That is a matter of style, and which approach is better depends on the candidate’s tastes as much as anything. The persistent tension within the Clinton campaign is troubling though, because it reflects the candidate’s ability to manage the operation. The government is too big to be run through the Oval Office, and when power is delegated, the delegates need to be trusted and trustworthy. If Clinton can’t shake things up, she’d be a troubled nominee, and after winning, a troubled President.