Hillary Clinton’s closest allies are irritated with Jill Stein.
Most of the small circle of operatives and friends surrounding the vanquished Democratic nominee have no illusions that the former Green Party candidate’s recount pushes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and maybe Michigan, will even come close to flipping the result of the presidential election. And they have no interest in handing Donald Trump another political victory when Stein’s efforts fall short.
Indeed, there’s no push to have Clinton say anything public about the recount — or even for anyone on the campaign side to weigh in beyond occasional blog posts and tweets from campaign lawyer Marc Elias.
The election, they know, is over.
“Recounting votes is as American as apple pie. There’s nothing wrong with the effort, but it’s not somewhere where I would put the political energy of my groups, and I’m not,” said David Brock, a Clinton ally whose network of Democratic political firms supported the nominee’s White House bid.
Brock said top party donors were asking him whether they should contribute to Stein’s effort, but he said he was already focused on the incoming Republican administration. “We’re focused on watch-dogging the Trump transition.”
Stein’s increasingly loud calls for recounts have still struck a particular nerve among top Democrats who are close to Clinton: some feel that the constant Clinton antagonist has put them in an utterly impossible position. They don’t see the results changing — as Elias said when he announced the campaign’s participation in Stein’s effort — and they are desperate not to look bitter or raise the hopes of Clinton’s most diehard supporters. But they do have an obligation to be a part of it, especially — some strategists believe — since Elias himself is a veteran of other recounts.
The result is a pervasive level of Democratic exasperation, especially among party operatives who now note in frustration that Stein’s online fundraising push for the recounts — which has brought in over $6 million in less than a week — has likely handed her one of the single largest small Democratic donor networks outside the party and its nationwide candidates themselves.
Still, it’s not like they don’t enjoy watching Trump squirm, keeping their popular-vote victory as a trophy while he makes false claims of voter fraud.
“When you see Donald Trump go off the deep end with conspiracy theories, the first reaction is ‘Told you so.’ The second reaction is genuine worry about how thin his skin must be that he needs to invoke conspiracy theories to explain why he wasn’t the most popular candidate in the race,” said one former senior Clinton aide. “That doesn’t mean he didn’t win the Electoral College. He did. But his inability to cope with the majority of the country voting for someone else is, well, a lot of us view it as a window into his heart.”
A group of top aides that includes Elias and former campaign chairman John Podesta has listened when credible observers come forth with theories or reason to question the results — such as the call with a cadre of academics that eventually led to Stein’s push. But the Democrats who made up Clinton’s campaign structure are now scattered all over the country, still picking up the pieces from her stunning loss and looking for their own next jobs while helping carve a new path forward for the party amid its latest soul-search.
So despite frustration that their former boss has been dragged back into the news as Trump wrongly suggests illegal voting and Stein pushes on across the Midwest, there’s no Brooklyn war room. There’s no regular wide-circulation conference calls, or even any focused email chains to discuss responses to Stein’s recount requests or Trump’s claim on Sunday that, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” — not to mention his other Twitter suggestion that, “The Green Party scam to fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts is now being joined by the badly defeated & demoralized Dems. The Democrats, when they incorrectly thought they were going to win, asked that the election night tabulation be accepted. Not so anymore!”
Over and over, Clinton aides point to the irony of the president-elect criticizing her for participating in a recount while he himself alleges fraud. But they say they’d like to move on, if only Trump — and the small but loud minority of Democratic loyalists and donors who are still furious and dedicated to re-litigating the campaign’s failings – would let them.
So, wary of appearing to interfere in the recount process and giving Trump more political ammunition, Clinton veterans have remained largely silent on Stein’s push, instead turning their public ire to Trump’s latest provocations. Believing that Trump is coming under enough fire without a high-level statement from Clinton or a senior campaign official, the task has fallen to individuals.
Accordingly, former Clinton aides have not hesitated to shoot back online — “okay, no. why even say this?” wrote former foreign policy spokesman Jesse Lehrich, responding to Trump’s claim of fraud. Hours later, former deputy communications director Christina Reynolds chimed in, linking to a New York Times report on Trump’s international business ties: “Here’s why Trump is tweeting about illegal voters. So you don’t notice this.”
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