Civil War in Hillaryland

Yesterday a front page Washington Post story outlined the extent to which internal squabbling has overtaken the Clinton campaign. Throughout much of the election cycle there has been a lot of attention paid to potential rivalries within the camp; as of late, those internal fights have been playing out in a much more public fashion.

What we know so far about the Clinton campaign is discomforting. We know that Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, remained in her position long after having squandered the entire campaign war chest. We know that Mark Penn, chief strategist of the campaign, has alienated nearly everyone he works with, often getting into profanity-laden arguments with fellow advisers. We know he is "openly despised" by many senior Clinton officials. We know that, in the face of heavy criticism, Mark Penn has tried to shift the blame, maintaining that he is just an outside adviser, with no real control of the campaign.

We know that Harold Ickes is eager to argue the point in front of microphones, where he has ungracefully laid the blame squarely on Penn. We know that, at the Arlington headquarters, the tension has built so high that Penn and Mandy Grunwald, Hillary's ad maker, got into a yelling match that prompted the political director to leave the room. And we know that we know that because it was leaked.

We know the media team fights with the field team, each blaming the other for Clinton's February losses. Perhaps worst of all, The Washington Post confirmed what many Democrats had feared the most: in South Carolina, Bill Clinton was out of the campaign's control.

A good measure of the relative functionality of a campaign is to watch how often inside information is leaked to the press. That we know as much as we do about the internal strife in Hillaryland suggests that the press is being wielded as a weapon in the middle of an all out civil war.

Yet with the wind at her back, following strong victories in Ohio and Texas, Hillary may question whether any of this should really matter. It does.

Hillary is often painted as a technocrat, stronger on the details than Obama and more likely to manage the country effectively. We are led to believe that she would be as capable a chief of staff as she would a commander in chief. But while her campaign comes unspooled in the pages of the Washington Post, she has yet to give any indication of the desire or ability to take the wheel and steady the ship.

In many ways, her management style is reminiscent of President Bush. She has surrounded herself with people whose top qualification is their loyalty. Patti Solis Doyle, the incompetent campaign manager, was allowed to stay in her position for far too long, primarily out of loyalty. A similar note can be played with respect to much of her campaign staff, many of whom would have already been fired by nearly any other candidate.

There are also tints of a young Bill Clinton in Hillary's management style. His early White House has been notoriously described as a dorm-room-style setting with no clear chain of authority and a set of aggressive warring factions. It was this poorly conceived structure that contributed to President Clinton's overstretched agenda, often with contradicting messages, rarely with a long-term framework in mind. In 1994, the consequences of flailing leadership meant the Republican control of Congress.

Will Hillary Clinton manage her White House in the way she has managed her presidential campaign? The question seems fair. Will she instead run it like she did her 2006 Senate campaign? Patti Solis Doyle drastically overspent in that race too. Will she manage the White House like she did the health care reforms of 1994? With those, she ignored political realities and helped polarize her own party by refusing the input of key members. Is this what we can expect from a second Clinton presidency?

Perhaps we should be concerned with the more immediate future. Is Hillary going to run a general election campaign the way she ran her primary race? After all, her campaign thus far has demonstrated the inability to make quick and effective recalibrations. They have failed to rein in Bill Clinton, and have been unable to build strong organizational capacity in a number of states. Their decision-making apparatus is controlled by spiteful aides who seem more enveloped in their own in-fighting than the needs of the campaign. Can Democrats really afford Mark Penn and Harold Ickes throwing temper tantrums through the fall?

These are not easy questions for the Clinton campaign to answer. But they are important questions for the voters and super delegates to consider. Harold Ickes was recently quoted as saying, "She's better than her campaign." This is undoubtedly true. But if after four to eight years of a Clinton presidency, she maintains her management style, we may all be shrugging with disappointment, knowing, full well, that she was better than her presidency.