Hillary Clinton’s Would-Be West Wingers Have Nothing to Lose
Several Democrats slated for jobs in the West Wing if Hillary Clinton had won the election are in limbo now, coming to terms with their regrets and trying to figure out what to do next in Donald Trump’s strange new political world.
“Election night felt like the Jason Isbell song, ‘24 Frames,’ as in ‘everything you built… goes up in flames in 24 frames,” says Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s director of communications. “Now it’s Shawn Colvin’s ‘Fall of Rome,’” she says, quoting the lyrics. “‘In anyone’s heartache or anyone’s blues is the beautiful feeling of nothing to lose.’
“So that’s liberating,” she concludes in an email. “Things are better.”
Palmieri has her talking points down. She has options that she is weighing, but isn’t ready just yet to talk about what’s next. She had been President Obama’s director of communications before joining the Clinton campaign in the spring of 2015. Before that, she was president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Jake Sullivan, who would likely have been Clinton’s national security advisor in the White House, is returning to Yale, his alma mater, where he had been teaching in the law school before going to work for the Clinton campaign full time.
Staffers who want to stay engaged in politics are deciding whether to join “the resistance or the rebirth,” says Bill Burton, co-founder of the pro-Hillary super PAC, Priorities USA Action.
He cites the New Democratic Redistricting Commission (NDRC) launched by former Attorney General Eric Holder to promote Democrats across the country to win key races before the next round of gerrymandering, when congressional districts are redrawn.
The Center for American Progress, the think tank founded by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and headed by Neera Tanden, will continue to churn out policy reports and ideas, sobered by the realization they, like Clinton, somehow missed the mark and failed to fully read the mood of the country.
Ron Klain, likely Clinton’s chief of staff had she won, resumes the life he had at an investment firm where he is general counsel. Maggie Williams, a longtime Clinton advisor, returns to Harvard, where she directs the Institute of Politics.
Ann O’Leary, a lawyer who would almost certainly have become Clinton’s domestic policy advisor in the White House, has joined the law firm of Boies Shiller in San Francisco. Co-founded by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 recount, the law firm has become an outpost for Clinton people.
Lily Adams, familiar to reporters as Clinton’s battleground states communications director, has joined California Senator-elect Kamela Harris. That would count as part of the “rebirth” effort.
There are no big names landing marquee jobs as heads of this or that foundation, or company in the private sector, at least not so far.
Phillipe Reines, who played Trump in Clinton’s debate prep and was at her side during both presidential campaigns and between them at the State Department, returns to the lucrative consulting firm, Beacon, he co-founded with Jeremy Bash, who was CIA chief Leon Panetta’s chief of staff. Their star may have dimmed a bit with Clinton’s loss, but there is always an appetite for defense and security-related contract work in Washington.
Most intriguing is what Clinton herself does next, and aside from likely writing a book about her experience as the almost-president, it’s anybody’s guess. “She definitely does not know what she’s next doing,” says a longtime aide and friend.
Clinton has an office in midtown Manhattan, with room for a small cadre of aides. Huma Abedin, who has been with Clinton since interning with her at the White House in the nineties, is expected to stay with her. Speechwriter Dan Schwerin, who worked with Clinton throughout the campaign, and is credited with helping her find her voice, is also expected to stick around at least for a while, as is traveling press spokesman Nick Merrill.
Cheryl Mills, another stalwart in Clinton’s life, will always be a key advisor, a shaper, in whatever Clinton does even as she returns to the Africa-focused investment firm she runs.
“People haven’t made it clear or figured it out exactly, that’s why you’re not finding dramatic change in people’s lives,” says a Clinton advisor, who like almost everybody in the Clinton orbit insists on anonymity. “Until Hillary decides what she wants to do and what she needs, the rest of us don’t know what we’re doing.”
No one knows what campaign manager Robby Mook might be up to. Even if he had pulled off a spectacular win, he might not have been headed to the West Wing. For now, he’s laying low. He was new to the Clinton world. Now he’s banished.
News reports Tuesday noted that the Clinton Global Initiative had been shut down, fulfilling promise made by President Clinton last year in advance of the election. “It was a huge enterprise to get all of those commitments,” says a former CGI staffer, confirming that the shutdown was in the works in expectation of Clinton winning the election.
An arm of the Clinton Foundation, CGI was an annual meeting hosted by President Clinton where donors from around the world made pledges to further its programs. “They planned to do that (shut it down) in any case because of questions where the commitments were coming from,” says the former staffer.
If Clinton had been elected, the donations would have been suspect for their intent. As it is, according to a report in the Observer, donations to CGI fell immediately after the election, making the case that gaining influence was always part of the equation for donors.
Friends say Clinton will surely return to the issues she’s worked on all her life, including “Too Small to Fail,” an initiative she started at the Clinton Foundation to promote universal preschool. And there will be speeches. Whether she will be in demand the way she once was is another question.