The Most Thankless Job in the 2016 Election: Meet Hillary's Brilliant, Beleaguered Policy Team
Ultimately, Clinton settled on a scheme the campaign named the “New College Compact.” The goal, making public college debt-free, was simple. The mechanics were not. … James Kvaal, a former Obama administration adviser who consulted on the initiative, described it in an email as “a once-in-a-century change in the relationship between the federal government and colleges, on par with the Morrill Act (which created land grant colleges in the 19th Century) and the G.I. Bill.”
A few days before Clinton’s speech, O’Leary convened a final conference call to discuss media strategy. Anticipating a lot of attention, she instructed the team to be ready by the phones. Clinton delivered her address at a high school in Exeter, New Hampshire, and afterward, held a press conference in the gym. She got just one query about the plan. Earlier that week, Trump had described Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” during a debate, and so Clinton was grilled on whether Trump should apologize to Kelly, whether he had a problem with women, and what Clinton thought of the fact that Trump had retweeted someone who called Kelly a bimbo.
Over the next 24 hours, the tuition plan received only perfunctory coverage. “The calls just never came,” recalls Gene Sperling, another one of Clinton’s advisers. “It was all Kelly-Trump, 24/7.” Even many professional policy types didn’t grasp the full scope of her proposal; I didn’t realize it myself until I began researching this article. As primary season wore on, her scheme was overshadowed by a bolder, shinier promise from Senator Bernie Sanders: free public college for everyone.
The episode was typical of how this election has unfolded. Clinton’s policy operation has churned out more than 60 papers outlining plans for everything from housing for people with serious mental illness to adjusting the cap on loans from the Small Business Administration…
Clinton’s plans are as unambiguously progressive as any from a Democratic nominee in modern history—and almost nobody seems to have noticed.
The peculiar political dynamics of this election are largely to blame. In Sanders, Clinton drew an opponent whose ideas were even more grandiose than hers. Pretty much anything that Clinton wanted to do, Sanders also wanted to do, but on a bigger scale. Then, after Clinton clinched the nomination, policy dropped out of the conversation almost completely. A rare exception was the childcare policy Trump released in September, which was almost comically geared to benefit the rich. He has also issued three completely different versions of his tax plan. “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” Trump told a reporter. “It’s just a waste of paper.”