The Extraordinary Clinton Comeback and the Network That Did It

The Extraordinary Clinton Comeback and the Network That Did It

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 68, achieved what no woman in American history has ever achieved, and with it, perhaps even surpassed in historical significance her own formidable political and policy icon, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, heroine of the New Deal. While Mrs Clinton’s accomplishment to become the first female nominee for President of a major American political party with regards to her gender is truly historic, so too, in many ways is the remarkable political comeback of both Mrs & Mr Clinton from their devastating setback in 2008. It is a testament to the enduring power, smarts, resilience and hegemony of the now 24/25-year-old national Clinton political and fundraising machine. After all, it by a whisker almost delivered the nomination to Mrs Clinton eight years ago in the face of an even more powerful insurgency from then Illinois Junior Senator Barack Obama.

With Hillary now fronting the Clinton operation once again and Bill advising, strategizing and guiding from behind or out campaigning on behalf of his wife; the vast network of operatives, strategists, policy advisors, political consultants, Hollywood media moguls, donors, academics, business people, civil society and religious leaders, union officials, think tank researchers and political contacts – that constitute the «Clinton Political Machine» – has mounted and executed with victorious results the greatest political comeback of anyone involved in high-level American Presidential Politics in more than 40 years, and with it demonstrated the depth and reach of a political network built by a boy out of poverty in the South. As a political and electoral entity, the Clinton Network, has delivered one President, made history getting that President re-elected the first Democrat since the days of FDR to a second consecutive term in office and then making even bigger history by securing the nomination of the first woman in American history to be the Presidential nominee of a major American political party – thus making history not only for the country as a whole but once again the Democratic Party.

The resilience and unflagging power of this network over the course of four decades, and now four Presidential election cycles, held together by a husband and wife power couple team par excellence has been the story of probably the greatest American political dynasty of all time. Built from and expanded out of Arkansas with a dash of Ivy League intellectuals, DC consultants, Hollywood producers and New York financiers – the Clinton Machine – was put together primarily from Bill Clinton’s childhood and teenage days in Arkansas having been involved intimately in local and state wide Arkansas Democratic Party politics and organizing especially with his 1970s campaigns for Congress and the State Governorship in Little Rock. It began to grow in stature and maturity tentatively evolving nationally by the mid 1980s onwards predicated upon an original view to a run for the Democrats 1988 Presidential nomination. This would come at the beginning of the 1990s instead, but the evolution to nation-wide Political Hub of international interest by 1992 was recognized and complete. In many ways the growth of the Clinton Dynasty has been akin to a successful provincial company which eventually emerged into a global and dominant multinational.

For being plugged into the policy and academic university and think tank scholarly community primarily in Washington DC but also from around the US, indeed from around the world, the Clinton Network has managed to stay intellectually fresh, well informed and engaged with domestic and foreign policy issues, always grasping the big picture strategic vision of public policy, and sustained by an array of high-level thinkers and intellectuals who endlessly feed into and shape policy plans and proposals thus ensuring academic rigor for a detailed and precise program for Government. It has always been both Mr & Mrs Clinton’s style to run Presidential campaigns rich in policy, extremely knowledgeable and wonkish. While the fusing of the political and the Academy may have been a product of both Clintons, it was primarily the political foundations of what would become the Clinton Dynasty, which were laid and built by Bill Clinton from his childhood days in Hope, Arkansas. This network of Democrats both from Arkansas and around the country was the product of Bill Clinton’s passage through Arkansas Democrat Party politics – connecting and maintaining relationships and alliances with Democrats in a variety of positions and offices, particularly on Capitol Hill, through the power of his intellect and charisma and the vision of his ideas for the Democrats in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. It was further at one and the same time cemented and enhanced with his run for the House of Representatives and the Governorship. By the time Clinton had assumed the leadership of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council his political network and machine alongside fundraising potency had elevated his political operation to a national one. This was only further entrenched and expanded taken to Olympian heights with his time as 42nd President of the United States.

Once Mr Clinton stepped down from the Presidency on January 20th 2001 his wife assumed near full control over the Clinton political brand and with it the power to nourish and grow it as the elected political force now of the family. This transition was facilitated with Mrs Clinton’s election to the United States Senate before the retirement of Mr Clinton as President in the fall Senate election of New York State, November 2000, the same election which brought George W Bush and Al Gore into legal contention over hanging chads in Florida. Now with the Clintons gone from the White House and Bill focused on setting up his philanthropic charitable foundation, it fell to Hillary for the first time in the couples married history to tend to the politics of the Clinton Dynasty from her office on Capitol Hill as the Junior Senator for New York. She did this by letting Hillaryland, her own inner loyalist band of near all female aides, effectively take control over the established Arkansas/Presidential Campaign/White House Clinton political and fundraising apparatus and machine, once again adding to it and refreshing through her outreach and recruiting in Senate work in Washington DC and New York as well as vigorous Democratic Party election campaigning and Congressional/Gubernatorial fundraising from the cycles of 2002 through 2006. This suited both Clintons professionally and geographically, as well perhaps, emotionally. 

It has been well known and observed that since Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House in January 2001 and neither were no longer actively President and First Lady, they have basically led somewhat separate lives, ironically spending more time together when Hillary has been running for President than when she was in the Senate in the early 2000s or Secretary of State in the early 2010s. Mrs Clinton may have left the White House on January 20th 2001 but Washington DC and her Whitehaven stately residence on Embassy row close to the Vice-President’s Naval Observatory home continued to be her prime base of operations with New York constituency matters tended to at the weekends, when she would stay in the neo-colonial Dutch farmhouse the Clintons purchased at the end of 1999 in upstate New York, Chappaqua, Westchester county. This was Bill’s primary base of operations from which he commuted to his Clinton Foundation offices in New York City. This remained the case even more so when Mrs Clinton joined the Obama administration as Secretary of State in January 2009.

After getting herself elected to the Senate, a national politician for the first time in her life in her own right and a former First Lady as well, the geographical distance for then Senator Clinton was required as well as the emotional space at the age of 53 to establish her own political and legislative career, and demonstrate that she really was a political force in her own, independent right, and not just an extension and creation of her husband’s patronage. It allowed Mr Clinton to focus on expanding the Clinton operation into fields of global philanthropy and charity alongside continued high level governmental contact making and engagement through his Clinton Foundation and its related Clinton Global Initiative held each year during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a pre-eminent hub of Heads of State, global celebrities, Government Ministers, donors, policy makers, academics, CEOs, billionaires, journalists, bankers, diplomats et al.

The President’s retirement from active political office afforded him the freedom to also focus on paying off the family debts and building up the Clinton Dynasty’s financial position by going on the lucrative public speaking circuit, a practice of retired Presidents and fellow Heads of Government such as the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thus, while it had been Hillary who had tended to the family finances as a Rose Law Firm Partner during their time in Arkansas while Governor Clinton had tended to the political side of matters, now it was Bill who focused on being the main family bread winner while Senator Clinton tended to the politics of the Clinton Dynasty. All this was building up to the 2008 Presidential campaign of Mrs Clinton herself, which was eventually launched on January 20th 2007. It was a political earthquake of quite some magnitude that saw Mrs Clinton losing the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008.

With that defeat, albeit razor thin, Mrs Clinton’s management of the Clinton Machine, came in for heavy criticism. Due to the requirements of the office of Secretary of State, which is strictly non-party political, but perhaps also a realization that she lacked some of Bubba’s political magic, the political leadership of the Clinton Machine passed back more closely within the orbit of Mr Clinton who took a much more hands on, almost solo role, in campaigning and fundraising for Democrats, smoothing political relations over with the newly ascendant Obama wing of the party, connecting with a whole new generation of Democrat politicians and officials and instilling loyalty and authority throughout the Democratic Party and its structures to ensure no further hemorrhaging of support. Bill Clinton was back out on the stump for Democrats throughout the 2010 mid-term Congressional election, took on a starring and central role as Campaigner-in-Chief for President Obama in 2012 and then again in the mid-terms of 2014.

The triumph of the Clinton Machine in winning the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential nomination alongside securing it in 1992 and 1996 illustrates the institutional grip the Clintons retain over the Democratic Party even after nearly 16 years out of the White House and 8 years after a severe humbling at the hands of a new political network, The Cult of Obama. Bill and Hillary Clinton both represent the closest manifestation the Democrats have had to a monarchy, underpinned by their extensive and loyal Court. The restoration of the House of Clinton on the verge of occupying the ultimate center of American power – the White House once more – has been an enterprise which even the Kennedy family failed to achieve.