Monday, April 07, 2008

Mark Penn's Triangulated "Resignation"

Mark Penn, caught-out selling his knowledge and access to both sides of the free trade war, has resigned from the Clinton campaign. Or has he? He's dropped one title ("Chief Strategist"), but apparently he personally and one of his firms stay on the payroll and will continue to advise the campaign. Here's the official announcement from Maggie Williams, Clinton's campaign manager.
"After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign."
Two questions: What were the unmentioned "events of the last few days," that led Mark Penn to ask to to give up his role? Is he gone or not? [Update: The answer is "not gone." Penn participated in this morning's conference call.]
  • Monday, Penn (wearing his hat as CEO of lobbying and PR giant Burson-Marsteller) met with officials from Colombia to advise them on strategies for getting Congressional approval of the Colombian Free Trade agreement. (Sen. Clinton has been wooing labor with her vigorous opposition to free trade—and has specifically denounced Colombia for anti-union violence.
  • Thursday, the press and blogosphere started playing back an unfairly edited Clinton remark from early March regarding leaks that an Obama staffer had back-channel conversations with Canada. The snipped version: "“Just ask yourself [what you would do] if some of my advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments," What Clinton actually said: "Just ask yourself, if some of my advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments basically saying 'ignore what I’m saying because its only political rhetoric,' I think it raises serious questions.” Well, close enough for politics.
  • Friday, Penn apologized for the meeting: "“The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated and I am sorry for it. The senator’s well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed.”
  • Saturday, Colombia, taking umbrage a the apoloty fired Burson-Marsteller: "The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable.” (The $300,000 contract had been in place for more than a year, and as Joe Trippi noted, the only question is why hasn't this been an issue earlier?)
But there's one other event that surely preceded Mark Penn's asking to step down: A confrontation with Bill and/or Hillary. According to Ann Kornblut and Dan Balz this much has been leaked: "Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, were furious with Penn for going to the meeting, campaign officials said." Delicious details, surely to follow.

Steeped in triangulation (the art of finding middle-muddles between two controversial positions), Penn and the Clinton campaign offer us a non-resignation resignation. What exactly happened here? By giving up one title, but retaining a lucrative contract Mark Penn finds himself unable or unwilling to ask the Clash's musical question: "Should I Stay or Should I Go"

Mickeleh's Take: Given the long string of self-wounding strategic blunders that the Clinton campaign has made, and given the ludicrous and transparent goal-post moving spin that Penn has concocted almost daily in his press calls, it's amazing that he's held the Clinton's trust until "the events of the last few days." More amazing that he may still have it.

(Tags: Clinton, Hillary, Hillary Clinton, Mark Penn, Mark J Penn, Lobbyist, Burson-Marsteller, campaign)

1 comment:

Amyloo said...

You know what else smells kind of funny? The WaPo story mentions, but not in the lead, that a spokesperson for Columbia didn't know who Penn was representing. Yet most of the secondary reporting dutifully picked up the statement that meeting was entirely separate from the campaign. Makes you wonder if he's ducking out -- or pretending to -- before more details hit the fan?

(hey sorry about that snark last night in twitter; i'm a real jerk sometimes, classic add blurter, sorry.)