In the last desperate hours of the Hillary Clinton campaign, both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton began to fear that defeat just might be snatched from the jaws of victory.
The Clinton campaign dismissed the fears as irrational, last-minute jitters. Bill Clinton, they decided, and even, to some extent, Barack Obama, were wanting them to run the campaign the way it had been run in their time. Modern campaigns, the Hillary Clinton team assured them, were now run differently. “Four years was a century in the digital era.”
Barack Obama’s very real concern was about the rising costs of Obamacare. “On November 1, 2016, only a week before the vote, several large insurance companies were dropping out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, with the result that premiums on policies would jump.”
This was now more than just Hillary winning the election. This was about Barack Obama’s legacy that Republicans were threatening to dismantle.
Citing sources inside the White House and inside the Clinton campaign, historian Doug Wead’s book GAME OF THORNS tells the story of how Obama reached out to the Clinton campaign, offering advice that was almost a perfect echo to suggestions Bill Clinton had been offering them for months.
Obama, like Clinton, warned about leaving the Catholic vote and the white, evangelical Christian, vote on the table. An Obama staffer later wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post entitled, “Why did Obama win more white evangelical votes than Hillary Clinton? He asked for them.”
Bill Clinton had been warning for months that they were going to lose “the Bubba vote”: white, unemployed, Catholic voters in Rust Belt states. Clinton’s advice that Hillary speak at Notre Dame University for St. Patrick’s Day went unheeded.
Obama, meanwhile, insisted that Hillary Clinton attack Obamacare in her second debate with Donald Trump. He assured her that it would not hurt his feelings, and that he knew it had to be done. She had to stay ahead of the issue and had to take action while she was leading.
The Clinton campaign did not want to appear disloyal to President Obama and didn’t want anything to disturb their appeal to African-American voters but finally hit on the perfect solution.
While the former president had been kept out of the limelight for months, the campaign finally agreed on a useful assignment. Since Bill Clinton was so worried about the Rust Belt states, he would be sent to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania on a speaking road tour. Since Barack Obama was so worried about the coming jolt in prices for Obamacare, Bill Clinton would be assigned to take care of that problem as well.
On October 5, 2016, in Flint, Michigan, Bill Clinton was speaking at a campaign rally when he was asked to comment on the Affordable Care Act.
“So you’ve got this crazy system,” said Clinton to the crowd, “where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.” He was calling Obamacare crazy.
Republicans were gleeful. Trump joked that Bill Clinton must have gone through hell last night with Hillary.
The national media was shocked.
Barack Obama was only amused. “You never know what that guy is going to say,” he laughed. Clinton had pulled a Trump. He chose words that guaranteed a story that might have otherwise been missed. “It’s the craziest thing in the world.”
In fact, the whole affair had been a carefully choreographed moment, meant for strategic effect, approved and arranged by the Clinton campaign and coordinated with the Barack Obama White House.
Two days later the Access Hollywood tape was released by the Washington Post, revealing Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women as sex objects. All of the anxiety that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had fed into the Clinton campaign dissipated in an instant.
Within days, an NBC/WSJ poll had Clinton beating Trump by 14 points. The last time a presidential candidate had led by 14 points in October was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan had carried every state in the union except Minnesota.
Hillary was safe. So was Obamacare. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama must have felt like fools for worrying too much.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook confided to a friend that Bill Clinton, and his incessant, nagging, irrelevant, advice, was driving him crazy.
Doug Wead is author of the forthcoming book, GAME OF THORNS, and one of the few living historians to have written about all of the American presidents. His book, All the President’s Children was a New York Times bestseller. Wead has been an employee of ten presidential campaigns. He began as a writer for Ronald Reagan in 1979. In 1989 George H.W. Bush brought him on to senior staff at the White House as special assistant to the president and, most recently, he served as a senior adviser to Senator Rand Paul. He has been a guest commentator throughout the election process on Fox News.