Why Is Clinton’s Back Against Wall? Nobody Prepared

“An interesting sort of spin has been put on this that Senator Obama seems to do better in areas among more highly educated, more intellectual groups,” Mr. Appel said. “And what is interesting about that is that it seems to be well known that Hillary has generated more large donors than Senator Obama has. I find it kind of strange that Hillary is the candidate of the less intellectual, yet she has the larger and more wealthy supporters.”

On the evening of Feb. 11, Mr. Penn—the architect of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign strategy from the very beginning—took a break from the rigors of the campaign to stump for himself at the Strand Bookstore in downtown Manhattan. Surrounded by white copies of his book Microtrends (already-purchased copies of which were not permitted on the premises), Mr. Penn stood at a lectern between a dark window and a small crowd of readers.

“I was determined to take an hour out and talk about the book,” Mr. Penn told the audience, some of whom ate yogurt as they listened by the stacks of art and auction catalogs on the bookstore’s second floor. “It’s not a political book.”

With that, Mr. Penn, who speaks softly and always looks a little nervous, began his presentation.

“The theory of the book is that the era of big trends is over,” he said.

He talked about how society had become “infinitely personalized” because of an increasingly evident “individualistic streak” that manifested itself in, among other things, the way “people don’t want to wear the same clothes.”

As Tina Brown, the former New Yorker editor who is working on a Hillary Clinton book, took notes to his left, Mr. Penn emphasized his distaste for the microtrend he calls “impressionable elites”—supposed leaders of society who, as he sees it, show more interest in a candidate’s personality than policies.

Mr. Obama enjoys the support of this chattering class, Mr. Penn believes, while Mrs. Clinton speaks more to working-class people who really care about policy because policy really impacts their lives. Worse still, Mr. Penn sees the “impressionable elites” growing in number, so much so that he has considered turning “that trend into an entire book someday, because it is becoming more and more evident.”

At least one attendee was skeptical. “Obama strikes me as a macrotrend, not a microtrend,” said Kevin Costa, a 48-year-old government analyst and undecided Democrat, during the question-and-answer session.

“It’s not just in the political context,” Mr. Penn said, explaining that more and more people were being persuaded by media stories and making important decisions in their life based on “hearsay.”

Asked after the event what, if anything, had gone wrong with the Clinton campaign, Mr. Penn suggested that Mr. Obama had simply turned out to be a tougher candidate than originally expected.

“After he won Iowa, he was a different candidate with a larger constituency,” said Mr. Penn. “I think that very much changed the course of the race, but I think you have seen us come back time and time again in situations where the polls and the media were ready to call it, and the voters said otherwise.”