Mark Penn Hits the Ol’ Dusty Trail. But Will That Help Hillary?

Mark Penn
Photo: Newscom


Hillary Clinton's chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, resigned after The Wall Street Journal reported that, in his role as CEO of the lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, he'd recently met with the Colombian ambassador to the United States to discuss the promotion of a bilateral free-trade agreement. Clinton opposes the deal, and Penn's meeting could have sent mixed messages to her working-class voter base. It also called into question his priorities. What remains to be seen is whether throwing Penn overboard will genuinely help the campaign or if the Clinton ship will simply sink a bit more slowly.

• A Sun editorial calls Penn's Colombia trouble "one of the lamest reasons in the history of presidential politics for the demotion of a campaign aide," since other high-profile advisers, like Bill Clinton and Howard Wolfson, are for free-trade agreements or have ties to the Colombian government. Plus, this doesn't help our relationship with Colombia. [NYS]

• Ben Smith believes that Penn's departure won't result in any "dramatic shift in message," but will at the very least give a morale boost to Clinton staffers who chafed at Penn's presence. [Politico]

• Mark Halperin lists thirteen justifications Clinton could have used to fire Penn even before the Colombia meeting. No. 2: "He brought his near absence of visible professional humanity to a candidate that needs humanizing more than most." [Page/Time]

• David Corn sees Penn's departure as a lost opportunity for Barack Obama to deliver a zinger on Penn's corporate ties during a speech or debate. [CQ Politics]

• Vaughn Ververs says the Penn episode helps support one of Obama's main arguments — that Clinton is too closely tied to Washington interests to create real change. [Horserace/CBS News]

• Mark Ambinder says the Penn ouster was long overdue and that the Colombian blunder — for which the Clinton campaign was unable to come up with a plausible defense — was simply the last straw. [Atlantic]

• Ezra Klein says Penn's meeting with the Colombians was motivated by "pure greed": He focused on getting money by negotiating a free-trade agreement instead of helping Clinton become president so she could oppose the agreement. All in all, getting rid of him was a good move for the Clinton campaign, though it may be too late to matter, he writes. [American Prospect]

• Michael Crowley posits that Penn may have no longer wanted to sacrifice his corporate work for Clinton's slim chances at winning the nomination. [Stump/New Republic]

• Jim Geraghty thinks the "most revealing" aspect of the entire Penn saga is that he never felt that acting as Clinton's chief strategist was a full-time job. [Campaign Spot/National Review]

• Chris Cillizza says that while campaign-staff shakeups rarely capture much attention, Penn's high profile may mean his resignation will pierce the public consciousness. He also quotes a Democratic consultant who predicts the campaign will now take on a less combative tone. [Fix/WP]

• Josh Marshall wonders why the language in the press release announcing Penn's removal was "massaged" so as to make it unclear what role in the campaign Penn will retain. [Talking Points Memo]

• Ari Melber says that the announcement was an attempt to reduce Penn's visibility but not his responsibility. Melber argues that the title change "does nothing to address the serious questions about Penn's potential conflicts of interest." [Campaign Matters/Nation] —Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.