Clinton HAS put Claire McCaskill and John Kerry at the top of a tally of treacherous lawmakers.
Inside a cramped third-floor office of Hillary Clinton’s once-bustling presidential campaign headquarters in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, Kris Balderston and Adrienne Elrod put the finishing touches on a political hit list.
It was late June 2008, and Hillary had dropped her bid for the presidency. The data crunchers were gone. The political director had drifted out.
The official government titles obscured Balderston’s true value: he was an elite political operator and one of Hillary’s favorite suppliers of gossip. After more than a dozen years spent working for the Clintons, he knew how to keep score in a political race.
Elrod had first found work in the Clinton White House after a 1996 internship there, then became a Democratic Party political operative and later held senior posts on Capitol Hill. She joined the Hillary Clinton for President outfit as a communications aide and then shifted into Balderston’s delegate-courting congressional-relations office in March. Trusted because of her deep ties to the Clinton network, Elrod helped Balderston finalize the list.
As one of the last orders of business for a losing campaign, they recorded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet the names and deeds of members of Congress. They carefully noted who had endorsed Hillary, who backed Barack Obama, and who stayed on the sidelines, “We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are [Congressional Black Caucus] members or Illinois members. an improvement on what old-school politicians called a favor file. It meant that when asks rolled in, she and Bill would have at their fingertips all the information needed to make a quick decision—including extenuating, mitigating, and amplifying factors—so that friends could be rewarded and enemies punished. Balderston and Elrod were walking favor files. They remembered nearly every bit of assistance the Clintons had given and every slight made against them.
Almost six years later most Clinton aides can still rattle off the names of traitors and the favors that had been done for them, The data project ensured that the acts of the sinners and saints would never be forgotten. There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post, or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school.
On one early draft of the hit list, each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from one to seven, with the most helpful to Hillary earning ones and the most treacherous drawing sevens. The set of sevens included Sens. John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Bob Casey, and Patrick Leahy, as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Baron Hill, and Rob Andrews.
Yet even seven didn’t seem strong enough to quantify the betrayal of some onetime allies. When the Clintons sat in judgment, Claire McCaskill got the seat closest to the fire. “He’s been a great leader,” McCaskill said of Bill, “but I don’t want my daughter near him.” “I really don’t want to be in an elevator alone with her,” McCaskill confided to the friend.
But Hillary, who was just then embarking on her presidential campaign, still wanted something from McCaskill—the Missourian’s endorsement. Women’s groups, including EMILY’s List, pressured McCaskill to jump aboard the Clinton bandwagon.
In January 2008 she not only became the first female senator to endorse Obama but she also made the case to his team that her support would be amplified if Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitano came out for him at roughly the same time. McCaskill offered up a small courtesy, calling Hillary’s personal aide, Huma Abedin, ahead of the endorsement to make sure it didn’t blindside Hillary. Hate is too weak a word to describe the feelings that Hillary’s core loyalists still have for McCaskill, who seemed to deliver a fresh endorsement of Obama—and a caustic jab at Hillary—every day during the primary. Many of the other names on the traitor side of the ledger were easy to remember, from Ted Kennedy to John Lewis.
“Bill Richardson: investigated; John Edwards: disgraced by scandal; Chris Dodd: stepped down,” one said to another. “Ted Kennedy,” the aide continued, lowering his voice to a whisper for the punch line, “dead.” For Balderston, the betrayal of Jim Moran, the congressman from Alexandria, Virginia, was perhaps the most personal. Moran said I plan on making it up to him in the 2016 campaign since I’ve always been in love with Hillary.” Moran added that, in 2008, “I simply thought that, given the opportunity, it was too important that this country elect an inspiring black president.”
Bill was particularly incensed at California representative Lois Capps. He had campaigned for Capps’s husband, Walter, Lois Capps help win her husband’s seat in a special election. The Cappses’ daughter, Laura, had even worked in the White House. “How could this happen?” Bill asked, after Lois Capps came out for Obama at the end of April.
Bill and Hillary were shocked at how many Democrats had abandoned them to hook up with the fresh brand of Barack Obama. As a last resort, Hillary pleaded with them to simply refrain from adding their names to Obama’s column. I honestly think that’s an important subtletly in Bill Clinton, in his head. She’s not as calculated, but he is.” It would be political malpractice for the Clintons not to keep track of their friends and enemies. Politicians do that everywhere. The difference is the Clintons, because of their popularity and the positions they’ve held, retain more power to reward and punish than anyone else in modern politics. The sheer volume of the political figures they interact with makes a cheat sheet indispensable.
In the summer of 2008, Hillary Clinton couldn’t have known whether or when she would run for president again. But she knew who was on her side and, name for name, who wasn’t.
Sources—the hill, amie parnes, jonathan allen