This list comes from her failed 2008 campaign, not any she may (ahem!) be building for 2016, but it’s a useful reminder of the Clintonland landscape in any period. Cross a Clinton, make the list — and it doesn’t matter how well-established one might be, either. According to a new book coming out from Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the Hillary Clinton Hit List was short but distinguished:
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. …
Almost six years later most Clinton aides can still rattle off the names of traitors and the favors that had been done for them, then provide details of just how each of the guilty had gone on to betray the Clintons—as if it all had happened just a few hours before. 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.
Claire McCaskill made the list for telling the late Tim Russert that Bill Clinton was a fine President, “but I don’t want my daughter around him.” She apologized directly to Bill Clinton, but when she endorsed Barack Obama, all previous sins were unforgiven, too. Team Clinton carefully noted each perceived slight and betrayal — in Excel spreadsheets! — and exulted when their nemeses stumbled.
“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.”
Now, none of this is exceptionally different than what other politicians do. Everyone keeps track of friendships, betrayals, and chits owed and on call. It’s just that, as Parnes and Allen note, the Clintons are particularly good at it — and have the power to make it count:
“It wasn’t so much punishing as rewarding, and I really think that’s an important point,” said one source familiar with Bill’s thinking. “It wasn’t so much, ‘We’re going to get you.’ It was, ‘We’re going to help our friends.’ I honestly think that’s an important subtlety 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. And while their aides have long and detailed memories, the sheer volume of the political figures they interact with makes a cheat sheet indispensable. “I wouldn’t, of course, call it an enemies list,” said one Clintonworld source when asked about the spreadsheet put together by Balderston and Elrod. “I don’t want to make her sound like Nixon in a pantsuit.”
Perhaps not. But perhaps it’s not the healthiest thing for Democrats to give her the opportunity to become one, either.