Devil’s Bargain and Shattered: Read Both

I’ve now read both Devil’s Bargain, by Joshua Green, and Shattered, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Together, these two books provide insight into the 2016 election that you could never get from either alone. I highly recommend reading both, starting with Shattered.

Trump’s election really was the perfect storm, but not in the sense that he got really lucky. There was far more to it than that. And there are lessons to be learned.

The most important lesson, politically speaking, is that primaries have a purpose, and when the primary process is manipulated to clear the field, it likely won’t work out well in the end. We’ve seen this in prior campaigns, but 2016 will be the textbook case for decades to come. I’ll return to this point later in the post.

The hard truth in 2016 was that Hillary likely was the only Democratic candidate Trump could beat and Trump was the only Republican candidate who could beat Hillary. Was that cruel irony, or the inevitable result of a corrupted candidate selection process?

Regardless how you answer that question, Trump’s win required a fluke confluence of events. It required the Trump campaign to be as focused on its path to victory as the Clinton campaign was unfocused. It required the Clinton team to stick to entirely conventional campaign strategies while the Trump campaign strategy was outside the box. And it required a system for electing candidates that makes that states in which a candidate’s voter base resides more important than the size of that voter base. Did it require the actions of Jim Comey shortly before election day? We’ll never know, but after reading Devil’s Bargain, you may find the certainty of Democratic Party partisans unwarranted.

Devil’s Bargain is as much about Steve Bannon as it is about Trump. Green was in a unique position to write Devil’s Bargain, because he’d learned a lot about Bannon from his work as a reporter. It was Bannon’s genius (evil genius perhaps, but genius just the same) that elected Trump. Bannon recognized an army of angry white voters who Trump could reach and inspire the way no traditional politician could. Interestingly, Bannon’s keen insight came only partially from his post at Breitbart. From a failed business venture, he’d also learned about an army of World of Warcraft players, overwhelmingly male, who could be motivated in large numbers. The reality that this group could be large enough to swing an election is chilling.

I wrote months ago on Matt Taibbi’s review of Shattered. After reading the book myself, I agree with Taibbi’s point that Shattered is as much about the Democratic Party establishment as it is about Hillary and her campaign. I didn’t take the book as a slam on Hillary, as so many others have. In fact, my opinion of her softened from reading it. My sense of her is that she’s terribly flawed as a politician, but not a terrible human being.

Which brings me back to where I started. In 2008, efforts to clear the Democratic field for Hillary were resisted and ultimately thwarted. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, however, allowed the Clintons to take far more control, critical control I submit, of Democratic funding sources in 2016. It’s not hard to pressure a mainstream candidate out of a primary race if he/she knows not only that you can choke off funding for the primary campaign, but also for his/her next Senatorial run.

As a result, we saw a Democratic field in a race to succeed a popular Democratic President with a dearth of candidates. Was that healthy? On social media, there is an endless debate as to whether Sanders would have won the general. The more healthy debate, in my mind, would be how a Democratic candidate who would have run if not pressured out of the primaries would have fared in the general against Trump.

If you’re with me so far, and you consider it at least possible that a vigorously contested, multi-candidate Democratic primary might have produced a general election winner (without getting bogged down in speculation as to who that winner would have been), consider next the mindset that fosters acceptance of the “clearing the field” strategy. Is Taibbi, describing the mindset of DC politicians, on to something in that regard?

Most don’t see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of “whip-smart” organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.

Seems he is. The contrast between the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign could not have been any starker than it was on this front. But the mindset Taibbi describes not only was fatal in the general election campaign, it’s what makes the practice of clearing the field permissible in the first place. After all, if you think “better puppeteering” is what will win the general election, the qualities of the candidate herself lose relative importance, thereby allowing you to discount the notion that an uncorrupted primary campaign identifies the most electable general election candidate.

In my mind, Taibbi’s observation gets to the heart of what happened in 2016. The Republican Party chose a candidate who led an organic movement. Yes, it was an ugly, angry, race-based organic movement that could succeed only in America’s undemocratic, anachronistic electoral system. But it was indisputably an organic movement. The Democratic Party chose a candidate with the level of funding perceived to be more than adequate to hire the best puppeteers.

And the puppeteers lost.

47 thoughts on “Devil’s Bargain and Shattered: Read Both”

  1. in hillarys new book she say bernis sanders should have followed her example in 2008 and not cast aspersions on her opponent! you know like take the high road like she did in 2008. remember have her supporters spread rumors that obama was born in kenya. or say that she and john mccain were experienced in government and this young man (at least she didn’t call him a boy!) only claim was he gave a speech at the convention!

  2. hillary clinton whines in her new book that bernie sanders cost her the election by reminding voters about her past history. she says no real democrat would remind democrats that she is a warmonger who voted for the iraq war for personel gain. besides whats wrong with taking millions from goldman sachs a girls got to eat! this is why bernie sanders and the rest of us democrats have to take control of the democratic party from the corporate donor class and their clitonista running dogs.

  3. I am still waiting for a clear explanation of why people say robotically “i just don’t trust Hillary.” i want specifics. And, I want a clear explanation of what was illegal (nothing a/c Comey) about having a private email server as SOS when it was fairly well known that the State Dept. system had serious breaches. I’d love to read that explanation.

    • most people don’t trust hillary long before e-mails which may or may not have been a criminal act. here is your explanation why most not only don’t trust hillary ;but think she has disqualified herself from holding any public office. her IRAQ WAR VOTE! but didn’t she apologize for her vote whine the clintonistas. yes when senator obama was garnering all of the anti war democratic voters. clinton hoped her insincere apology would fool them it didn’t fool them or me. she got what she deserved for sending young americans to their deaths in iraq. hope the explanation informs you. by the way I got censored here for harping on this issue.

    • Specifics? But why? Trust is routinely based on intangible factors such as voice tone and body language. Moreover, with many people, trust must be earned. Their default position is distrust. I don’t think you can force people to trust someone. Their distrust may not be rational, but trust is not something that requires a rational basis. That may be brutally unfair. Sometimes trustworthy people are not trusted. Sometimes those who are not trustworthy are trusted.

  4. Hello, a couple of points.

    1) In any other democracy, Hillary Clinton would be the President right now as attributable to her popular vote win. I get a kick of how people said she was the terrible candidate even through she received the most votes.

    2) The Comey letter ten days out had an impact as 538 studies illustrated. No Comey letter probably means no Trump Presidency.

    3) The other major figure at that Russian dinner with Mike Flynn. Wait for it. It was Jill Stein. Her siphoning of votes was like Ralph Nader in 2000. Not to sound like a paranoid but did the Russians have an unknowing Trojan Horse (I don’t think Stein is a traitor) that ran on the Green Party Ticket. Something to consider.

    • I haven’t looked into this since shortly after the election but I don’t recall that Green or Libertarian percentages were way off in 2016. I think I was probably looking at Bush/Kerry and Obama/Romney for comparison. Some percentage of voters will support third party candidates, regardless.

    • thats mighty white of you not thinking jill stein is a traitor. ask yourself if this is treason. sending young men and women to their deaths in iraq for your political gain even though you don’t believe in iraq war you vote for it so republicans can’t use your vote against you when you run for president. your choice biden clinton kerry edwards or all four.

      • No need to be hostile and yes Kerry, Biden, Edwards , and Clinton are preferable to Trump or Bush. To not think so is foolhardy.

        • and sanders is preferable to them all. remember the lesser of two evils is still EVIL! it was sarcasm not hostility. I have been told I could annoy god!

        • “…and yes Kerry, Biden, Edwards , and Clinton are preferable to Trump or Bush. To not think so is foolhardy.”

          And to think that you are correct is both simplistic and foolishly arrogant. You have an opinion which, as we all know, are like anuses…

    • Just looking at the state of Pennsylvania which was a must have blue state for Hillary, third parties looked like this from 2012 to 2016 (Wikipedia):

      2012 percentage of statewide vote
      Libertarian – .87
      Green – .37
      Other – .2

      2016 percentage of statewide vote
      Libertarian – 2.38
      Green – .81
      Constitution – .35
      Other – .81

      Third parties definitely did better in Pennsylvania in 2016 than 2012, but it was the Libertarian party that gained the greatest percentage of voters.

      • Wisconsin
        Libertarian – .67
        Green – .25
        Constitution – .16
        Other – .25

        Libertarian – 3.58
        Green – 1.04
        Constitution – .41
        Indep/ McMullin – .4
        Other – .89

      • I think her tallies in Michigan and Wisconsin were better than the margin of Clinton’s losses in those states.

        • Yeah, but what does that say about the electorate? Third parties were up across the board from 2012 to 2016 with Libertarians taking a significantly higher percentage of the vote than all the others.

          I’m not sure what it means. Clinton and Trump certainly must have inspired third parties but it appears that Trump did so more than Clinton. That or a lot more people liked Gary Johnson better in 2016 than in 2012. Hillary probably would have done worse if Jill Stein were more appealing.

          I will always believe that those three states were Hillary’s to lose and she managed to do so.

          • You know once upon a time Gary Johnson and Bill Weld would have been a Republican Dream Ticket. I agree the Clinton campaign took some states for granted and it did come back to bite them. My only point is that I am worried that twice in five elections, the Democratic Party lost elections even though they won the most votes. Some, like Michael Moore, say that can happen again in 2020. I pray for our democracy if this is a continual trend.

      • Michigan
        Libertarian – .16
        Green – .46
        Other – .45

        Libertarian – 3.59
        Green – 1.07
        Other – .62

        • left wing third partys get much less votes then right wing third partys but their effect is just as great. in 1948 and again in 1968 segregation third party candidate carried states and got their electoral votes in the south. anderson had little effect in 1980 ;but ross periot got bill clinton elected in1992. pat buchanon may have confused enough voters in florida with the butterfly ballot to defeat gore with the help of 150,000 votes for nader. read the book about it jews for buchannon.

    • “1) In any other democracy, Hillary Clinton would be the President right now as attributable to her popular vote win.”

      But this isn’t “any other democracy”, so your point is, well, pointless.

      “2) No Comey letter probably means no Trump Presidency.”

      Or, maybe not. It is what it is. Who really knows what “might have been”. Like your first point, it is moot.

      “3) Her siphoning of votes was like Ralph Nader in 2000.”

      Well then, I would have to say, as in 2000, thank goodness it happened! We are a blessed Nation!

  5. bob, trump did not beat hillary clinton in the rust belt to win an electoral college majority. replay election night coverage on the internet where shocked media pontificators accidentally blurt out the truth in shock. they admit while not politically that clinton was hated as much as trump. democrat clinton shills came on the media to denouce democrats who voted for jill stein as her vote totals were by larger margins then clinton lost those rust belt states by. just as it was ralph nader who beat gore in florida 150.000 vs 537. how dare democratic voters hold clinton’s savy politically correct vote for the iraq war that she didn’t believe in either against her. jill stein voters would never have voted for trump. ask kristin sinema or kavenaugh what the libertarian party does to republicans in arizona. jill stein was a non person on liberal msdnc and many other liberal media until the recount after the election. first sanders and then stein devastated clinton on her iraq war vote with anti war liberals.

  6. So clearly explained. We as voters need examine the issues to make informed decisions, and not be part of the herd. In today’s political climate it is too easy to latch on the a catch phrase about an issue we may or may not agree with. We lose sight of the overall picture. A wall, missing emails, draining the swamp, or usage of a word to describe terrorists, are not what we should be examining when deciding who leads our country.

    • A wall, missing emails, draining the swamp and terrorism were key issues in the campaign and were also reasons why Hillary lost. I think Bob’s analysis explains a lot on the Democrat side but that was not the only reason Hillary lost. Life and elections are complex. No analysis can discount Hilary’s ethical flaws, public anger with the Washington establishment, R and D, and terrorism, not to mention the economy.

      • Yeah, Clinton was gross.

        And as for your candidate, the leader of your party, he and you have created a world where it’s okay for me to ask this question:

        May I grab your wife’s pussy? May if I come at her like a bitch?

        Oh, wait, I’m no good at this, I’m not supposed to ask, right? In Trump’s GOP you just molest women when you want.

        Conservatives, full of shit since 1980, and completely without morals since 2015.

        • Lucky for me I had already finished my coffee when I read this or I would now be cleaning my keyboard. 🙂

          • Tomorrow the leader of the GOP is expected to announce the deportation of 800,000 young Americans.

            That’s pure straight up evil.

            So I suppose I’m not feeling very charitable to Trump supporting racist little creeps like Kavanagh today.

            Americans are good people and we’ve beat down Nazi’s and Klansmen before, we’ll do it again, but we shouldn’t have to, and it’s really pissing me off.

            I just doubled my monthly donation to the ACLU.

          • There are two, and only two reasons for Trump to end DACA:
            1. His obsession with trying to decimate the legacy of President Obama.
            2. Appeasement (an offering, if you will) for the resentful white people who voted for him and continue to support him.

            Yeah, it is straight up evil but it is exactly what we should continue to expect.

            Do those 800,000 deportations ease the resentment of the white people who feel they have been shortchanged, that they didn’t get what they were entitled because some POC were getting it instead?

            No, they will be just as resentful on the day they’re buried. That is the nature of racism. It is learned, but once learned it just festers there inside the heart and mind and soul. Resentment is just one manifestation that Trump has been stoking for years.

            I just don’t see how Trump wins with this and it seems to be more about reason #1 than reason #2.

          • And, of course, Trump’s obsession with Barack Obama and his (personal) need to destroy his legacy is about Trump’s racism.

            Have y’all ever wondered how you can hate someone that much, someone you don’t even know, because that person is not “white”? That is racism, raw and exposed.

            A black president was unbearable for Trump, and Trump thinks he can erase him.

          • I wonder how they’re planning on removing 800,000 Americans?

            Will they put them in camps? Load them into boxcars?

            I know America won’t put up with this.

          • Trump has emboldened some of America’s worst people.

            And the GOP owns every single one of them.

          • Andrew Cuomo‏Verified account @NYGovCuomo 8h8 hours ago

            New York will not demonize diversity.

            We will not stand by as 42,000 NYers are deported.

            If President Trump rescinds #DACA, we will sue.

        • “In Trump’s GOP you just molest women when you want.”

          Oh, Tom…you are really having problems getting past the 2016 election, aren’t you? That is unfortunate because the world keeps moving past you. If you just open your eyes, there is a lot of new things you can obsess about without going back over a year ago.

        • “Trump has emboldened some of America’s worst people.”

          Do you mean Andrew Cuomo, the democrat party, the ACLU, BLM, the anarchists, Governor moonbeam, the antifa terrorists, Se Pueda, Chicanos por la Causa, etc., etc. etc.?

          I AGREE COMPLETELY. Worst people, indeed!!

          • Two things, John:

            (#1) Tom NEVER apologizes to anyone about anything. I don’t know if it is a weak ego or some other insecurity, but he cannot allow himself to admit he made a mistake.


            (#2) Tom has an obsession about GOP sex, especially Trump and sex. I won’t even speculate about the source of that little quirk, but it is one of his favorite subjects.

          • To Not Tom:

            “You should apologize for legitimizing that kind of behavior.”

            How did John Kavanaugh “legitimize” that kind of behavior, much less talking about it? The only one who obsesses about it and talks about it constantly is YOU, Tom. You seem to be a one man band trying to push in front of an audience that tends to ignore it otherwise.

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