The critical messages about the former first lady show that she has a long way to go to assuage skepticism from influential voices on the left.
The Hill reviewed hundreds of emails from a progressive members only Google group called the “Gamechanger Salon,” a forum where nearly 1,500 activists, strategists and journalists debate issues and craft messaging campaigns.
The group includes prominent Democrats, Sierra Club officials, journalists who work for The Huffington Post and The Nation magazine, senior union representatives, leaders at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the president of NARAL.
In the emails spanning nearly a year — starting in June 2013 through July of this year — frustration with Clinton is evident.
Clinton’s too much of a hawk, too cozy with Wall Street, hasn’t spoken out enough on climate change, and will be subject to personal questions and criticisms, members of the group stated in the emails.
The existence of the group was reported earlier this year by the conservative outlet MediaTrackers.org, but this is the first time the emails have become public.
“[A] Clinton presidency undos [sic] all our progress and returns the financial interests to even more prominence than they currently have,” Melissa Byrne, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said in a November 2013 email.
The progressives expressed an appetite for an alternative to Clinton to teach her — and those from the centrist wing of the party — a lesson.
Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has repeatedly said she won’t run for president, but some on the left aren’t convinced.
“The establishment Dems need to be punished, and the best way for that to happen is for Warren to beat Hillary in the primary on a populist message,” Carl Gibson, a progressive activist and writer for Occupy.com, wrote in one email.
Even though months have passed since the emails were sent, the sentiment remains.
Mike Lux, a prominent strategist and an active member of the group, told The Hill that the concerns haven’t changed and operatives “are probably more worried at this point rather than less.”
Conversations with a half-dozen of the members of Gamechanger Salon this week confirm that the angst within parts of the progressive movement has only grown.
“There’s good reason to believe the discontent remains the same,” Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America and another group member, told The Hill.
Much of the exasperation with Clinton hinged on the former New York senator’s vote for the Iraq War, which is still toxic for many progressives. Clinton has since said her vote was a mistake.
Charles Lenchner, a progressive operative and executive director of Organizing 2.0, said Clinton — and anyone else who voted for the Iraq War — is “tainted.”
“And personally, I would like to see a Democratic Party where folks who enabled George Bush to drag the country into a permanent war are punished at the ballot box,” he said in an interview.
Ryan Clayton, a left-leaning commentator and strategist, wrote in a July 2013 email, “The more Progressives I talk to, the more people tell me that they’ll never forgive her for voting for the Iraq War… and won’t even vote for her in the general.”
Another area of irritation is the economic policies instituted by her husband, former President Clinton, that some progressives say contributed to the financial collapse. Lux, a former Clinton administration aide, wrote in an email that while he didn’t think she was involved in crafting economic policy as first lady, he’s concerned about her relationship with Wall Street.
“I also came to know how close she was to the pro-Wall Street forces inside the administration and out, and the downsides on foreign policy are all very real. So I will hesitate for a long time before jumping into her campaign,” Lux wrote in a group email.
Byrne, the Occupy activist, later declared in an email this year: “I have little respect for decisions Sec. Clinton has made in her career and I have a different value set from her.”
One of Clinton’s biggest critics among the group is Guy Saperstein, a major Democratic donor and part owner of the Oakland Athletics baseball team.
In emails, Saperstein called a report out in December of last year that Clinton offered a “reassuring” message to Goldman Sachs executives “horrific,” and slammed her for “ducking a lot of issues, like the Keystone pipeline.”
He also raised questions about her leadership at the State Department and referenced “the type of intimidation the Clintons want to quietly promote [in the velvet glove, of course].”
Saperstein expressed concerns that voters would begin to speculate over her personal life and relationship with her husband.
“None of that would be helpful to her candidacy,” he wrote.
Saperstein did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
New members of the group have to be sponsored by a current member. Participants were put on notice in a document outlining the rules of the group: While “you are not allowed to forward emails without permission of their author ... on a list with 1,000+ people, it’s a good policy not to write things on the list that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying publicly.”
The email messages show how intensely leaders in the progressive movement want Warren to run. Lux, who has called Warren a friend and offered effusive praise of the freshman senator, was nevertheless a consistent voice warning against the effort.
“She represents most of what I have been looking for in a Presidential candidate for my entire career in politics and who is besides a dear friend. I am not expecting her to decide to make the race, though- she certainly hasn’t given me much indication she is considering it,” he said in an August 2013 email.
Others raised flags about Warren’s focus on environmental issues.
“I love Elizabeth Warren. She’s great on holding Wall Street accountable and many pocketbook issues I care about, but she hasn’t talked about climate change publicly since she was elected,” Marc Weiss, a climate activist and lobbyist, wrote in an email from the group.
But still, the “Warren wing” of the party pressed on. The emails reveal an adamant conviction that, essentially, if they built the movement, she would come.
Billy Wimsatt, the founder of the group, stated in a September 2013 email, “I’m ready for something better and Warren is the only person on the radar who might be significantly better. Warren doesn’t need to appreciate it. Leadership isn’t fun. She doesn’t get to tell people that we can’t want something better.”
Gibson, of Occupy.com, in an email from December of last year, lauded Warren’s “ovaries of steel.”
And Lenchner, of Organizing 2.0, told The Hill this week that the other potential candidates in the race don’t have the “symbolism of Warren.”
Wimsatt, along with dozens of others in the group, declined to comment for this article. But a few talked with The Hill about their thoughts on Clinton.
In interviews and emails, members of the group expressed a near-universal concern — that still prevails — that if Clinton doesn’t take steps to appease the progressive wing of the party, it could be damaging to her chances in 2016.
Gibson wrote in an email, “another establishment pick from a political dynasty family will drive folks to the green party.”
Clayton suggested in an email from January of this year that without a more liberal alternative to Clinton, the party would splinter: “if we have no Progressive candidate with legitimate street cred about taking effective bold action to face the vital issues we’re confronting as a country today (which is pretty much Warren and ... cricket, cricket...) in the race for Presidency, that means the abandonment of the Democratic Party by the reemerging and resurgent Left in America.”
Even as Clinton is dipping her toe in the 2016 waters with a return to Iowa this past weekend, Lux told The Hill that if she doesn’t take steps to assuage some of the angst on the left, “there’s a danger of progressives tuning out” if she wins the nomination.
Indeed, Gibson said in an interview that might be the plan.
“They’ll either vote for the Green Party of just sit out. That’s a really big aspect of progressive voters’ strategy” to have their voices heard, he said.
A Clinton spokesman didn’t comment for this article.
EMAILS FROM THE GROUP:
ON HILLARY CLINTON:
“The more Progressives I talk to, the more people tell me that they’ll never forgive her for voting for the Iraq War... and won’t even vote for her in the general.”
— Ryan Clayton, progressive commentator and strategist
“Repeat after me: [Hillary] Clinton, like Obama, but unlike DeBlasio, is not actually a progressive. With no serious progressive candidate fighting a primary, we, and the big we of all Democrats, are weaker - not stronger.”
— Charles Lenchner, executive director of Organizing 2.0
“All of a sudden now Hillary Clinton is not progressive enough, too establishment. Well, how else is a woman going to get into the position? Some people are kidding themselves. The double standard is obvious and expected, but let’s not pretend it’s not there.”
— Taylor Marsh, progressive commentator and writer
“The fact that [Hillary] says soothing words to bankers and takes money from them doesn’t make her a monolith or mean that they own her. It’s not a good thing; it’s not a harmless thing; it’s a bad thing; it’s perfectly fine to trash her for it; but it is not an all-determining causation story; it doesn’t mean that they own her and therefore pressure is futile.“
— Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy policy director
ON ELIZABETH WARREN:
“It doesn’t matter whether Warren likes it or not. Hillary opponents need a flag to stand under. This flag will do for now. Hillary endorsed the Syria bombing. She hasn’t learned her lesson.”
— Robert Naiman
“We need to fight for what we want. Warren isn’t a messiah. She ain’t perfect…But in terms of someone who is already an elected official with national name recognition, Warren might be the best shot we have in 2016.”
— Billy Wimsatt, founder of the group-
“The Clintons are political creatures of the highest order. You’re either with them or against them. They and Obama have a lot of people scared to challenge them. This is one of the worst aspects of Clinton (and all too often Obama) culture.”
— Billy Wimsatt