Control the message. This is arguably the first rule of politics. Set the terms of the debate. Stick to your talking points. Minimize leaks. Do not let the opposition define you. Avoid process stories. Win the news cycle. Never let them see you sweat.
In the era of the YouTube election, in which every campaign stumble has the potential to become a “macaca moment,” the pressure on candidates to keep an iron grip on their image is extreme. Quirky, let-it-all-hang-out romps like John McCain’s straight-talking quest for the Republican nomination in 2000 may be charming, but tight-lipped, brutally disciplined efforts like George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 runs are the stuff of which legends—and presidents—are made.
Among the 2008 field, no one recognizes this reality more than Hillary Clinton, whose every word, deed, and hairdo of the past fifteen years has sparked bitter national debate. Not coincidentally, she has spent this time assembling a network of advisers who share her views on loyalty and discretion. “Hillaryland,” as the members of this mostly female clique call themselves, is less a campaign entity than an extended sisterhood defined by its devotion to its namesake. Even so, the group’s protective ethos dominates her presidential campaign, where loyalty is demanded, self-promotion frowned upon, and talking out of school, especially to the press, punishable by death. (Just kidding—though staffers point out that the campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters is in a former INS detention facility that still has cells in the basement.) If any campaign has a shot at Total Message Control in ’08, it is Team Hillary.
But is this a good thing? Hillary is, after all, a candidate with very particular, personality-driven challenges. Unlike Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, she lacks the natural ability to make voters feel as though they have a personal sense of her in a 30-second sound bite. Polls indicate that even people who like Hillary don’t necessarily trust her; she is seen as too cautious, scripted, and opportunistic—in short, too much the slick pol. Dispelling such concerns is no small challenge for a political team dominated by loyalists who for years now have shared, and even enabled, the candidate’s obsession with privacy and control.
Hillaryland originally referred to the young, shoestring staff assigned to Mrs. Clinton during her husband’s 1992 presidential run, but it has expanded and mutated to the point where trying to determine members’ spheres of influence can seem a little like mapping the human genome. There’s Maggie Williams, Hillary’s first White House chief of staff and now her campaign co-chair, who is the person said to know what keeps Hillary up at night. Huma Abedin, Hillary’s beautiful, enigmatic “body person,” spends nearly every waking minute with Hillary and so has the best sense of her daily rhythms and routines. Lissa Muscatine, a former Hillary speechwriter and erstwhile book collaborator, is a walking catalogue of everything the candidate has ever said about anything. Cheryl Mills, who as deputy White House counsel defended Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial, has returned to the fold as Hillary’s campaign lawyer. Some members, like Hillary’s Senate chief of staff, Tamera Luzzatto, deal with legislative duties; others, like senior campaign advisers Ann Lewis and Minyon Moore, are focused squarely on ’08. “It’s concentric circles,” offers Melanne Verveer, Hillary’s chief of staff during Bill’s second term.
At the center of all these circles stands Patti Solis Doyle. The first person Hillary hired during the ’92 race, Patti, as she is universally known, worked as her scheduler for eight years, steadily amassing duties and influence. At this point, no one embodies the culture of Hillaryland more than Patti, now the campaign manager of Team Hillary. The 42-year-old Chicago native is direct, focused, and disciplined. She has a quick laugh, a sharp, teasing wit, and little patience for any sort of media attention. (“I’m Mexican, for crying out loud,” quips the first-generation American. “I just want to do my job.”) Officially, Patti is charged with overseeing every aspect of Hillary Inc., from hiring to fund-raising to crisis management. Unofficially, she serves as the eyes, the ears, and the voice of Hillary. While the campaign has its share of political geniuses who are more seasoned and more famous, Patti’s authority flows from having achieved a sort of mind meld with her boss. “Patti almost channels Hillary,” says Kim Molstre, Hillary’s perky and openly starstruck campaign scheduler. Hillary, in turn, seeks out Patti’s counsel. Says policy director Neera Tanden, “On any major decision, the first and last person Hillary talks to is Patti.”
Patti is also the chief enforcer of the family code: no leaks, ever. She expresses admiration for the way George W. Bush’s campaign team controlled its message, and, given her druthers, would run this race no differently. “We are a very disciplined group, and I am very proud of it,” she says with a defiant edge. Patti cites as one of her biggest achievements the fact that Hillary’s campaign launch in January was planned and executed with military precision. “There were so many eyes and ears waiting for her to say something about whether she would run. That what we managed to pull off was a creative, professional rollout of a presidential campaign without anybody really knowing about it [in advance]— I don’t want to say it was the hardest thing I’ve done, but it was one of the things I’m most proud of.”