- - Monday, November 27, 2017


By Donna Brazile

Hachette Books, $28, 268 pages

What went wrong? Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in her book title (she forgot the question mark), “What Happened?” Donna Brazile’s “Hacks” tries to answer that question. And in a way it does, though perhaps not in the way Ms. Brazile intended.

We’re told, perfunctorily, that Russians hackers, working in some undefined way with the Trump campaign, irreparably damaged the campaign by hacking Democratic emails, and that cyber-attacks will continue, a prospect “that should terrify every American.”

Concern, certainly. But terrify? Hardly. For one thing, the problem here was the emails themselves, their content, and the careless way they were handled. As for hacking, we have the world’s best intelligence agencies and personnel, the most admired colleges and universities, to which nations compete to send their students, and a generation of our own young cyber-geniuses to draw on. Surely, we can neutralize and surpass anything the Russians can throw at us.

But that’s really not the primary concern here. Although it might have seemed a good idea for a book title at the time Mrs. Clinton’s emails were still news, Ms. Brazile’s real subject is the failure of the Democratic campaign effort, due in no small part to ungrateful principals and campaign managers too callow to make use of the expertise she had to offer.

Ms. Brazile, who earlier had chaired the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for a month, replaced the feckless Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair in 2016, in the process discovering that the Clinton campaign had in effect taken over the DNC.

Later, Ms. Brazile was forced to resign when it was revealed that as a CNN commentator, she’d forwarded debate questions to the Clinton campaign. (Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice a well-regarded operative can make, trading reputation for temporary political advantage, and especially galling when that sacrifice goes unappreciated.)

Hillary Clinton flits through these pages, pausing for an occasional chat about things in general, but never policy matters. Ms. Brazile worried about Ms. Clinton’s health, especially during that period when she fell trying to get into a vehicle and coughed continually — worried about it to the extent that she thinks about actually replacing her as the Democratic candidate. Her ideal ticket: Joe Biden and Corey Booker.

Could this be done? Although she puts some rhetorical distance between herself and those “others in the party” who were seriously discussing it, she did remind the despised Brooklyn Clinton campaign staff that “the Democratic Party Charter gave me some power they could not control: the chair of the party has the ability to replace the candidate.” How far this thinking went is only hinted at, although she seems to imply Joe Biden knew about it.

There’s a special focus here on Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and his crew of young techies. “It was still chapping my hide that they did not include me on the national election strategy conference calls, as if my decades of experience in the black community were not needed. To Robby’s boys, my moment of glory had been the Gore campaign, which we lost.” (She managed the Gore campaign in 2000.)

“To them my campaign knowledge was from a bygone era. They saw me as desperate for significance and trying to claw my way back into the national conversation.”

Race is a complicating factor. Told by friends that she should talk with Mr. Mook and his minions, she points out “that would not be a good conversation. You know, you cannot leave me in a room with a bunch of smartass white boys for ten minutes before it all starts to go wrong.”

In the end, it did all go wrong, and the story she tells suggests that it might have been saved if they’d listened to her. Perhaps. But would her single-minded emphasis on turning out people of color have made a difference in those states where Mr. Trump upset Mrs. Clinton?

Or is it all irrelevant now? We seem suddenly to have entered into a new era in which the old politics no longer apply, virtue has been rediscovered, and there’s no tolerance, no forgiveness, no place in public life for predators and their enablers.

If so, the Clintons and their followers and all they symbolized have been blown off the political stage for good. Where this leaves our current president is anyone’s guess. But for longtime political hacks, no matter what the race or resume, it may be the end of the line.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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