The latest tranche of Podesta emails shows that the Clinton Team made the same mistake as the rest of the political world the first summer of the campaign: overestimating Jeb Bush.
The emails, published by WikiLeaks and possibly first obtained by hackers connected to the Russian government, give a rare unvarnished window into the Clinton camp’s thinking and preoccupations in summer 2015. Last summer’s big focus: Jeb!
The day after the Aug. 6 Republican primary debate, longtime Clinton confidant and Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden emailed with campaign chairman John Podesta about the event. It was the first debate of the cycle and drew massive viewership. The general pundit consensus was that Jeb Bush didn’t bomb, but also didn’t have any particularly outstanding moments.
Tanden felt differently.
“Bush sucked,” she emailed to Podesta. “I’m glad Hillary is obsessed with the one candidate who would be easiest to beat :) Besides Trump, of course.”
The concerns that Clinton’s team harbored about Bush had been popping up ever since he entered the race—particularly on his shock-and-awe approach to fundraising. In one email, dated July 13, 2015, campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri suggested changing the focus of a California trip from voting rights to technology.
“I know we talked about her doing voting rights in California, but think we should revisit doing something tech related so we are not ceding any ground to Jeb,” Palmieri wrote in an email to Huma Abedin, Robby Mook, Jake Sullivan, Podesta, and other top campaign staff.
“Agree,” Sullivan wrote back.
That email came as Bush was gearing up for a fundraising trip to San Francisco, where he would make headlines for riding around in an Uber.
When Clinton visited the San Francisco Bay area during the first week of August, her team only scheduled one public appearance—a round table with homecare providers, according to Fox40. She spent the rest of her time there fundraising, and met with the CEOs of Lyft, Airbnb, and other start-ups, according to Business Insider—in other words, keeping up with Jeb.
When Bush called for less government spending and more limits on lobbyists in his “Taking on Mt. Washington” speech on July 20, 2015, Podesta seemed impressed.
“Bush’s speech was smart,” he emailed top staff.
Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top foreign policy advisor, argued the speech’s calling for fiscal restraint might give them an opening.
“Making a big deal out of balanced budget will come back to haunt him,” Sullivan wrote. “May cost more than he gains out of rest of it.
“We will make sure it comes back to haunt him,” Sullivan then wrote.
Their initial worries were justifiable. After all, Bush’s polling numbers peaked in mid-July, as RealClearPolitics’ aggregation of polls shows. Then they started going downhill as Trump took off.
But there wasn’t full consensus on worrying about Bush. On Feb. 23, 2015, months before anyone entered the race, Clinton pollster Joel Benenson aired concerns about Marco Rubio.
“I’m beginning to worry more about Rubio than the others,” Benenson emailed to top staff. “He’s playing this very smart—only one who didn’t duck like a chicken shit on the Q of whether POTUS loves America. He has stronger right wing cred than Jeb and he’s finding a way to the middle enough for now and he will be the most exciting choice to Republicans. Could pose a real threat with Latinos etc.”
Lucky for Team Clinton, none of those fears were borne out. Instead, Clinton gets to face up with a candidate whose current top campaign priority seems to be bashing Paul Ryan.