What infuriated Penn’s colleagues in the Clinton campaign even more was the $13 million he received from the cash-strapped Clinton campaign, even as he kept receiving his Burson-Marsteller salary.
In the February interview with The Observer, he sought to defend his level of remuneration.
“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and mis-reporting on this,” Penn said. “This has been overwhelmingly for voter contact and direct mail, and all of it goes to companies, not to me personally, and I do not own the companies, and they are part of a Fortune 500 company. Large teams of people are involved.”
He said that more than 70 percent of the expenditures had been for direct mail, printing and postage.
But news of the Colombia meeting brought the complaints of Penn’s critics to a head.
On April 7, the campaign decided that it could not ignore this last misstep, which directly undermined Clinton’s professed support for trade deals more favorable to American workers.
“After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign,” Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams said in a statement. “Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign’s strategic message team going forward.”
It is not yet clear exactly what Penn’s departure from the message team will mean for Clinton, and it could very well be too late for any of the major adjustments Wolfson has for years advocated for from within Hillaryland: that Clinton show more of her personal side and move away from the robotic predictability produced by an overreliance on Penn’s polling data.
In February, a source in the campaign, speaking on background, said that Mr. Penn’s philosophy was perfectly represented by a comment he made during one of Mrs. Clinton’s debate preps at campaign headquarters in early winter. About 15 staffers were in a room with Mrs. Clinton discussing how she could best respond to a particular line of attack. One of the aides, the source recalled, had an idea.
“I think you need to show a little bit of humanity,” said the aide.
Mr. Penn interjected. “Oh, come on, being human is overrated.”
“Everyone laughed and it broke the tension, and even he had a smile on his face,” said the source. “But it said a lot because it seemed to really encapsulate a viewpoint.”
Mr. Penn, in an interview that month, recalled the comment as self-deprecating, and was unrepentant about the campaign he had run. He asserted that to the extent that his message was heeded, it was successful. And even Penn’s enemies inside the campaign — and they were legion — allowed that his early work establishing Clinton as an experienced, tough-as-nails candidate had built the only foundation upon which a woman could plausibly be elected as commander in chief.
Penn often found himself shifting blame in the last few months, as his candidate lagged behind Obama in delegates and contests won.
He blamed the political ground and money game, run by former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, her deputy Mike Henry and longtime Clinton loyalist and his longtime foe Harold Ickes. What ruined it for Mrs. Clinton, he said in February, were “organization-driven” states, where she suffered defeats in “a series of caucuses that generated tremendous momentum for Obama.”
He had always done his job, he argued.
“I think that virtually every schoolchild knows that she is ‘ready on day one,’ Penn said at the time, referring to one of the slogans he designed for Mrs. Clinton. “If you look back—at the beginning she was ‘ready for change and ready to lead’ and that’s something that built a large coalition that carried her through Super Tuesday. Between then and now, there was a period where the campaign didn’t have resources to play ahead in those states it needed to campaign in.”
UPDATE: Demoted but very much not gone.