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The Perils Of Patti

As we say our final farewells to the Patti era over at Team Hillary, I must admit that--despite the grumbling I had heard about her in recent weeks--I'm surprised she actually got shooed out of the top job. (Yeah. Yeah. I know the campaign insists the change was mostly her idea.) In my reporting on Hillaryland, I've always found the senior folks to be incredibly protective of Patti, as though she were everyone's favorite little sister. Part of this, say insiders, stemmed from Patti's proximity to the candidate--I mean, who wants to get caught talking smack about the boss's favorite? And part of it was clearly the result of this oft-discussed familial bond that a lot of the Hillaryland folks have. (Patti is particularly close to policy chief Neera Tanden and communications director Howard Wolfson.) More-cynical, less Patti-friendly staffers also noted that certain of the most senior advisers (such as Mark Penn, everyone's favorite target) were just as happy to have a top manager so overwhelmed that she couldn't pay too much attention to what they were up to.

Whatever the reasons, the result was the same: In a campaign with a reputation for insularity, the wagons tended to circle most tightly around Patti. Whatever the varying opinions about Patti's leadership abilities, once the decision was made, her presence as campaign manager was presented as an "unorthodox" but grand development for the team. Multiple Hillary folks talked about the benefits of the enduring bonds between Hillary and Patti and noted that, in this campaign, you were unlikely to see any of the trust issues or disruptive mid-course shakeups like those to plague past Democratic efforts.

So even after I started hearing about internal dissatisfaction with Patti, I half expected the campaign to just leave her where she was even as Maggie Williams took over the running of the joint. Indeed, as I was going to press with my "Putsch in Hillaryland" piece a couple of weeks back, Williams phoned me one night to chew me out for calling up Patti to ask if there had been any tensions arising from Williams's arrival. (All those stories about Williams being tough: I have the scars on my backside to prove it.) As Williams and the entire campaign were spinning it, Patti was in charge and would remain so; Williams would simply lend a hand wherever her friend saw fit. Did I believe the charming "I'm just a utility player" scenario? Not for a second. (It certainly didn't gibe with what I was hearing from others on the campaign.) But I did think that, considering how much Team Hillary had played up the Hillary-Patti link, and more broadly how much value the Hillaryland folks place on loyalty, that Patti might just keep her title for the duration.

Of course, campaigns--not to mention campaign staffers--are unpredictable. The road has been bumpy for Team Hillary of late. And today's WaPo has a nice front-pager suggesting that those rumored tensions between Williams and Solis Doyle may have grown worse in recent weeks. (Memo to Williams: I am just noting what I read this morning; please do not feel compelled to call.) On one level, you have to wonder just how bad things had to be for an official changing of the guard to take place. On another, maybe it's a good sign that Team Hillary isn't so fixated on personal loyalty that it would allow a bad situation to continue. Some within the campaign had certainly suggested to me that this was necessary even before the most recent round of troubles. 

--Michelle Cottle