penn is finally pushed out

Posted on April 6, 2008


The only complaint that can be made about the resignation of Mark Penn as Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist would be: why did it take so long?

Today, after months of criticism of his failed strategies and bad advice that brought Clinton from being a virtual shoo-in as the Democratic party presidential nominee to a candidate struggling for her political survival in the race, Penn was finally given the boot.

AP photo

The final straw came when Penn, in his capacity as the chief executive of the international public relations firm Burson-Marstellar, was found to be meeting with the Colombian ambassador to the US to help the Colombians get the free trade deal between both countries passed. Clinton, however, opposes this deal.

He should have been dismissed earlier so that Clinton could have been spared the embarrassments he wrought. This, after all, was a man who told the Los Angeles Times that he had “no administrative control” over the campaign, refusing to take responsibility for the mistakes of the campaign, such as being a slave to data and polls and moving the candidate’s position to suit polls. That made Clinton seem wishy-washy and more like a panderer than a candidate with a genuine platform.

His involvement with the lobbying of the trade deal with the Colombians looks like it could hurt Clinton at a point when she most needs to win — in Pennsylvania, which is largely blue-collar and resentful of jobs being lost overseas.

It is hard to believe that Penn was still paid $10 million by the campaign even though he was unwilling to stop his work with Burson-Marstellar. That brought about conflicts of interest as Burson-Marstellar represented firms that were in the news for the wrong reasons, such as security firm Blackwater and Countrywide Financial, the largest mortgage lender in the US. At least the Colombian government was smart enough to drop him after Penn called the meeting “error of judgment that will not be repeated”.

Unfortunately Clinton still has not severed ties completely with Penn. Penn’s polling company, Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc., will continue to provide data and advice to the campaign. That in itself is a problem. Penn has often been accused of being secretive about sharing polling information and this change might not make him more open to the others left in the Clinton campaign.

But Penn’s removal is likely to help calm the turmoil within the Clinton campaign. The enmity between Penn and other top advisers such as Harold Ickes, has been well documented. Perhaps the tension between the staffers will now be diminished to the point that they can stop fighting each other and focus on helping Clinton.

As chief strategist, the failure of Clinton’s campaign to have wrapped up the nomination by now when she had the early momentum should be laid at Penn’s feet. His plan to concentrate on the big states and forgo the smaller ones, such as Wyoming and Idaho, which because of the Democrats’ proportional allocation of delegates, gave Clinton’s opponent Barack Obama more of an edge when he won there. For instance, the Washington Post calculated that though Clinton won New Jersey which has 107 pledged delegates, she only gained 11 more delegates there than Obama. But Obama’s win in Idaho, though with only 18 delegates, allowed him to pick up 12 more than Clinton.

The negative tone of Clinton’s campaign has also been attributed to Penn. He was credited as having come up with the polemical 3 am phone call ad that was run right before the primaries in Texas and Ohio.

Clinton had apparently kept Penn on as he had been highly-loyal to her and her husband, one of the most important attributes she looks for in aides. Perhaps she should been less loyal to Penn much earlier so that she would not be in the predicament she is now in.

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