McAuliffe reacts with outsize outrage to suggestions of strong-arming. “Give me one example! One example of one individual who works for this campaign who has ever threatened anyone! It hasn’t happened,” he tells me. “People rumor about the Hillary Clinton campaign all the time. But I’ve probably spoken to 15,000 or 20,000 people in this campaign so far, and I haven’t had one complaint from one person I’ve spoken to.”
Patricof says the same. “I didn’t have to drag anyone kicking and screaming into this,” he tells me. “And I would never say, ‘You’re either with us or against us’—it’s not in my vocabulary.”
Some Obama backers acknowledge that the widespread accusations of Clintonian heavy-handedness are overblown. “[Clinton finance director] Jonathan Mantz doesn’t do that,” says an Obama bundler. “In this game, you have a thousand agents out there—who knows what they’re saying?” He goes on, “The pressure they exerted comes from trying to create this steamroller effect: ‘We have the most resources, the most talent, the most endorsements, so we’re going to win.’ The dynamic isn’t, ‘You’re with us or against us.’ It’s, ‘You’re with us or you’re a moron.’”
Even loyal denizens of Clintonworld don’t bother to dispute that. They also note the Clintons have elephant memories and value loyalty above all. The result is a realm where threats are unnecessary, because they are implicit: the threat of ostracism, in particular, of being banished from the charmed circle.
“There are some people the Clintons consider Clinton people who have gotten behind Barack,” a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary’s explains to me. “And there will be total retribution if the opportunity presents itself.”
Total retribution? You’re joking, right?
“I’m not joking. They’re not going to audit somebody’s tax return or anything. But once you’ve been in the Clinton camp, once they think you’re part of the team, once you’ve helped them and they’ve helped you and you then go somewhere else—I just think it’s very hard to crawl back into their good graces. I’m not saying it won’t happen. But they won’t forget. They may take you back eventually, but they won’t forget.”
Two weeks after his dinner in Washington with Obama, Robert Wolf found himself supping there with the senator again, in a private room at the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse near Dupont Circle. But this time, their meal was by no means à deux. Around the table sat the members of Obama’s embryonic New York finance committee: fund manager Jim Torrey (whose daughter is on the staff of this magazine); Provident Group partner Brian Mathis; Citibank executive Michael Froman; private-equity manager Jamie Rubin; and Orin Kramer.
Kramer had yet to sign on to support Obama; he was doing due diligence. But everyone understood what a score bringing him onboard would be. At 61, Kramer was a Clinton stalwart who’d piled up mountainous stacks of cash for Gore and Kerry. “Orin sort of owns New Jersey when it comes to raising money,” says Torrey. When the dinner was over, Kramer and the others raced to catch the last shuttle back to New York. At the airport, Froman and Mathis kept prodding him to pull the trigger. “All right, enough already!” Kramer said, pulling out his cell phone and calling Mantz to break the news that he was defecting.
Kramer had been mulling the decision, tortured by conflicting feelings, for weeks. “I ran up against my pain threshold,” he said at the time. “I have unalloyed respect for Senator Clinton … But despite being a dinosaur, I’m drawn to a different kind of political experience.” Moreover, Kramer had concluded, contrary to the conventional wisdom then, that Obama had a chance to win. “The market has mispriced him,” Kramer told friends. “The street thinks he’s a 5-to-1 underdog, but I think he’s undervalued.”
Kramer was by no means the only migrant from Clintonworld to Obamaland. “The first part of the calculus was about the civic good,” one former administration official tells me. “Who would be a better president? It’s a toss-up—maybe Hillary on the margin. But the likelihood is that whoever you support is going to lose, that’s just the odds, so it should matter who’d be the better candidate—I mean, better for the country. And I thought Obama, simply by being a candidate and by virtue of the policies and values he’d espouse as a candidate, had a chance to change the country. The second part is the personal: The Clintons are basically disloyal people. They have a huge track record of jettisoning people far closer to them than I am on the slightest political pretext. Loyalty has to be a two-way street. I don’t think they’ve earned the right to play the loyalty card.”