And pity the poor wretch whom Patti suspects of violating the code. Former Hillary press secretary Neel Lattimore (who is now with the Children’s Defense Fund but still cherishes his status as “the first man in Hillaryland”) vividly recalls the ass-chewing he received in 1997, when Patti thought he had leaked news of the First Lady’s 50th-birthday surprise party to the Chicago media. “She was at the airport on the phone screaming at me, and I was screaming back,” recounts Lattimore. “I told her, ‘Patti, I didn’t do that!’ She was like, ‘You did! I know you did! Just tell me you did it!’ ” Terrified that Patti didn’t believe him, Lattimore phoned the reporter in question, begging him to confirm that Lattimore hadn’t been his source. “Never cross Patti Solis Doyle,” Lattimore jokingly cautions. “I would rather throw myself in front of an Amtrak train.”
Of course, the tight-lipped tribalism isn’t Patti’s doing alone: It trickles down from the top. Capricia Marshall, who began working for Hillary in 1992 and now serves as a senior campaign adviser, “remembers fondly” a meeting in early 1993, when the then–First Lady gathered her staff in the correspondence office of the East Wing for a modified pep talk. “It was one of those, ‘Look to your right. Look to your left. This is your teammate for the next few years. We’re going to back each other up. We’re going to help each other out. The only way we can do this in this pressure cooker of a place is to help each other. No stabbing each other. No gossiping.’ ” The circle-the-wagons mentality was intensified by the barrage of political brawls and scandals and scorching media coverage during the White House years. (“Another day, another book,” quips campaign media guru Mandy Grunwald.) So protective of the First Lady’s privacy were her aides that they never referred to her by name in public, recalls Lattimore: “We referred to her as Herself.”
There is a significant Go, girl! aspect to working for Hillary. She represented a bold new model of First Lady, and many of these women were drawn to her record of advocacy on behalf of women and children. “There was the feeling that this was a very new and different kind of person trying to do something more with the position that really spoke to women in a larger sense,” recalls Muscatine. “Suddenly, you were invited to be part of this—this movement.” Hillary, in turn, has always taken a close, personal interest in her staff. With eerie uniformity, Hillarylanders proffer heartwarming anecdotes about how she is there for them during the good (weddings, births), the bad (illness, deaths), and the ugly (breakups, weight gain).
As a small female subculture fighting for its agenda within the male-dominated West Wing, Hillaryland swiftly developed a let’s-show-’em attitude. “Sometimes we would initiate something and the boys would take credit for it” even if they had initially fought it, recalls Melanne Verveer with equal parts amusement and annoyance. She points to Hillary’s speech at the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing, in which she famously asserted that women’s rights must no longer be considered separate from human rights. Coming in the wake of human-rights dissident Harry Wu’s arrest by Chinese authorities, the First Lady’s appearance was opposed as politically risky by many in the West Wing. “They gave us lots of flak,” says Verveer. But in the end, the speech was hailed as a triumph, and Verveer reports that people have since told her that as the president’s staff watched from the West Wing, “they were saying, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing,’ and then basically saying, ‘We’re so glad we told her to go.’ ”
Whatever the origins of the bond, Democratic observers say that the ring of protectors Hillary enjoys has no analog in party circles. And opinion differs as to whether this group dynamic is healthy. From a campaign standpoint, the advantages are clear. Having a network of loyalists helps avoid the drama and disarray suffered by past nominees such as Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom had few trusted, longtime advisers who could be counted on to put the candidate’s interests above all else. “There are people who say that the downside is you shut out advice,” says Carter Eskew, chief strategist for Gore’s 2000 run. “But the problem in a campaign is never a lack of advice. The problem is too much advice.” Mistakes occur in even the best-run race, he notes. “If you don’t have an atmosphere of trust, it makes it difficult for the campaign to recover. You just eat each other instead of moving on.”