Patti Solis Doyle and the Elusive Unity Pony

The news hit today that former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle will be joining the Obama campaign as the chief of staff for the eventual running mate.  The truly hilarious thing about this is that not a single person seems to have a clue what the hell this means.

While the general consensus is that Mark Penn was perhaps the single most destructive force in the Clinton campaign’s upper echelon, it was Doyle who ended up being the first high profile sacrificial anode from Team Clinton during the hard fought primary season.  Indeed, for all the political blunders made by the once revered staffers, there were surprisingly few people shed even when it was more than clear that the Clinton campaign needed a shake up in a major way.

How detrimental Doyle was to Clinton’s campaign is likely to never be known; criticisms both inside Hillaryland, and outside from political pundits have been widespread and noisy, perhaps noisy enough to make it difficult to fully analyze everything that went wrong and why.  Post mortems continue to trickle down weeks after the primary has ended, and everyone has their own pet theory.

But the question now is what is Doyle’s worth to the Obama campaign?  As a campaign staffer, her role in the Clinton campaign may or may not be suspect.  That question can only be answered by knowing if Doyle was originally replaced in the Clinton campaign as a scapegoat, or because she truly did hamstring her candidate.

What about the all important unity goal, though?  Surely, on the surface it would seem that Doyle’s hiring would be a step in the right direction towards ensuring the bitter-ender class of Clinton supporters that high level Clintonistas are being welcomed into the fold.

More importantly, could Doyle’s specific title, chief of staff to the VP, be indicative of the holy grail “unity ticket” that some so desparately desire?

The surface answer to these last to queries may seem blatantly positive, but the devil in the details may have another story to tell.  Anne Korblut reports that Clinton insiders are steaming mad over the selection, and Steve Benen believes that such a hire signals that Team Obama is less likely to take Hillary on as the number two spot on the ticket.

Frankly, I just don’t know about this.  I’ve never gotten the impression that Solis Doyle was the major drag on the Clinton campaign, not nearly as much as Wolfson, Ickes, McAuliffe, and mostly Penn.  Personally, I’ve always felt as though her firing was more sacrficial than corrective in nature.  One could make the claim that Williams’ hire had a net positive effect on the campaign, and indeed, there were some strategic shifts that benefitted Clinton, but these positives are muted by the fact that Clinton was also heading into a far more friendly roster of states coming out of February.

But I’m not an insider.

What I do know is that this sort of highlights exactly how tricky the entire push for unity really is.

On one hand, there’s the fact that the most invested supporters for Clinton are likely to be upset no matter what Obama does.  For them, it has actually quite a little to do with Obama so much as the fact that Clinton lost.

Another common thing I read and hear is that Obama is not doing enough to reach out to Clinton supporters, but then again, this too puts him in a rock and a hard place type situation just as picking former Clinton staffers to join the team does.

When it comes to which Clinton staffers to hire, there is the hope that the right combination may just get people thinking, ‘Okay, he’s picking members from our team, I’ll give him a chance to see what he does with them,’ or, ‘If so-and-so is joining, I suppose it can’t be that bad.’  There are unity benefits, in other words, to hiring Clinton’s former staffers, but there’s also the major net negative that they ran a pretty terrible campaign.  One could easily make the argument that many of the high profile staffers from Team Clinton are major drags on the ticket.

Likewise, when it comes to making overtures to embittered Clinton supporters, there are most definitely unity benefits to be had, but they come at the cost of the overall strength of the Obama campaign as it currently exists, and as it attempts to pivot towards a more general election based organization.

The fact of the matter is that Obama has a strong campaign with almost the perfect messaging for this election year.  He was highly disciplined in maintaining that message throughout the course of the primaries, and that allowed him to beat a field of better known candidates all of whom should have been capable of putting down a rookie senator whose surge to the national spotlight was a speech delivered in 2004.

The problem with overtly approaching Clinton supporters is thus two-fold.  For one, it makes him and his campaign look weak and beholden which is an uncomfortable position for someone who must now don the mantle of leader of the party.  But the other is that it runs the risk of weakening what has been an ultimately successful message.

How that messge would be weakened would not be because he would have to change it, necessarily.

Instead, the great danger, message wise, in becoming too beholden to bitter-enders is recognizing that there are weaknesses in his message, weaknesses that couldn’t easily be addressed given the fact that there’s not a whole lot ideologically that Obama could do in order to be more in line with Clinton than he already is.

There’s simply just not that much room for Obama to change to be more appealing to bitter-enders.

As a result, Obama is in a tricky situation, one that requires some severe operational risk management.  One that weighs the risks of shifting his campaign to woo Clinton supporters, vice one that is more geared towards the prime currency in a general election of swing voters.  If his campaign can be made weaker by trying too hard to appeal to Clinton supporters, would the votes gained there be worth the loss he would suffer elsewhere by such a weakening?

That’s a difficult question to answer at this point as, with five months left, it’s still difficult to tell exactly how many Clinton supporters are going to hold out throughout the rest of the election season.

So where does this put us?

Regarding Solis Doyle, two things are quite possible; 1) while she may not have been effective as a campaign manager, she may very well be effective as a chief of staff, and she was simply hired on her qualifications, and 2) it’s also quite possible that she was hired for a circus effect; to keep the press focused on the Obama campaign to continue to steal air out of the McCain campaign.

As for the ever elusive unity pony, I think for the time being Obama’s doing what he needs to be doing.  He needs to stick to his message, and he needs to continue to run his own campaign and not put too much energy into unity efforts.  If he focuses solely on unity efforts, he does so at the cost of not focusing on other things.

But if he continues to make the case for his presidency and continues to highlight the differences between him and McCain, and most importantly stay on message, that allows him to continue to compete strongly on the national stage among the millions of voters who weren’t active in the primaries, while continuously reminding Clinton supporters that McCain was an ideological polar opposite of Clinton.  Eventually most of them will come around.

More at Memeorandum: The Moderate Voice, The Carpetbagger Report, CNN, The Swamp, Hot Air, The Trail, The New Republic, michellemalkin.com, The Democratic Daily, protein wisdom, Wake up America, New York Magazine, culturekitchen, The Impolitic, Slog, Salon, Wonkette, Daily Kos, TIME.com and Political Punch

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  1. Just Another “We Knew It” Moment « The Confluence - [...] up the ruse and maintain that it was not meant to send any signals to the Clinton camp. Over in LeftField…

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