Courtesy of David Boyle

The Robby Mook Playbook

In 2008, a young operative took the campaign philosophy of “organizing” — and won Nevada for Hillary Clinton. Now, Robby Mook is her campaign manager, bringing his big win, big risk system and all it entails, including his band of loyal followers, to the biggest stage possible.

Eight years ago in Nevada, on the first race he managed for Hillary Clinton, Robby Mook provided everyone on the team with a copy of his 175-page training manual. Some staffers‚ the field organizers, received a second item: one standard-issue composition notebook, bound in black-and-white marble, the kind kids use in school.

These were “organizing books.” They were considered vital to the field operation, or as Mook called it, “the program.” And like everything pertaining to the program, the organizing books came with a system, and the system with instructions. In this particular case, they could be found in the manual. (Page 110, “Getting Organized.”)

Your notebook should be divided into three sections per day: calendar, notes, and action items…

Every morning began with a new calendar entry — a simple table, two columns. Down the left-hand margin, organizers wrote out 24 timestamps, one for every half-hour interval in the day. (Twelve hours, minimum.)

To the right, they scheduled and recorded their activity.

You will track progress to goal using the tools provided by the campaign including maintaining your organizing notebook…

For eight months, it went like this. They started in desert summer, 100-degree days. For eight months, they logged every half-hour of every hour of every long and hot day. For eight months, time passed in 30-minute intervals — from the statewide call (which got earlier as the caucuses got closer), to the single break in the daily schedule (lunch, 12:30 to 1 p.m.), to the long slog of the afternoon (the one-on-one meetings with volunteers, the call-time, the house meetings in the evening), to the final, most important task of the day.

At 9 p.m., it was time to report.

All Hillary Clinton for President-Nevada staff are expected to report nightly by 9:15 p.m…. These reports are vital to ensuring that our strategy is succeeding and an important recognition of the tremendous contribution staff are making…

Organizers went first, entering the results of their day into a finicky computer system called the Donkey. Next, the regional directors. Then the field director. It was his job to take their aggregate data and combine it all into one last report. And that went to Mook.

Then the day was over.

All of this — the ledgers, the reports — was in service of the goals. Mook laid them out in the training manual, his initial plan. To beat Barack Obama in Nevada, the Clinton campaign would need to enlist exactly 2,475 volunteers, train 1,744 precinct captains, and generate 24,751 caucus-goers. And to meet those goals, the team would have to meet their smaller daily goals.

The benchmarks underwent constant examination and adjustment. They were continually evaluated, tweaked, and reset, all based on data from the field team’s nightly progress reports. It was a three-part process, played out ceaselessly, day after day — as if the heartbeat of the campaign.

On Jan. 19, 2008, that’s how Clinton won. There was some initial confusion about the national delegate count. Because of his victory in a more heavily weighted district, Obama walked away that night with an extra delegate. But Clinton carried the vote. Mook, at 28 years old, delivered the campaign’s first caucus win — and at a time when they needed it badly. He then took his playbook to Ohio, Indiana, Puerto Rico. Most of his team came with him — and they beat Obama there, too. The operative, clean-cut and unassuming, was Clinton’s most winning state director. He came out of 2008 a star.

But working for Mook was hard. The days were long and unrelenting. The structure was rigid.

Failure to report nightly will have serious consequences and may be grounds for dismissal.

They were exhausted all the time. And yet, the next morning, they woke up and did it all over again… They wanted to.

Some members of the Nevada field team struggled to explain why in interviews — though most pointed to Mook. It’s not that he wasn’t regimented, they said. He was. All the time. But there was something else that kept them going. And it was essential.

In 2010, Mook helped write another manual — this one for Democrats hoping to run a race like Nevada. They called it the “Engagement Campaign.” There, a manager’s job is plainly described as winning: “setting clear, measurable, WINNING campaign goals and creating a culture of excellence and commitment to meet those goals.”

But the other required component, the manual says, is “motivation.”

Since one of your major resources is people — and since people are the resource that generate your other key resource, money — an Engagement Campaign is all about motivating people…

Brian DiMarzio, the deputy field director in Nevada, described it another way. There was one night on the campaign, he said, that didn’t end the way it always did. Clinton happened to be in town, and it was thunderstorming badly. After her event, the staff dragged everything back to headquarters in the pouring rain. The power was out, and they sat there in the darkness, dripping wet.

Then, from the silence, they heard clapping.

It was Mook. He was going into his routine.

It started slow at first. Then other people joined in and the pace picked up and the clapping got louder. It was still dark in the office — and they were still wet. But soon everybody was clapping. They clapped faster and faster, and then they were cheering too, and the sound in the room got so loud and fast it was almost frenzied.

Finally they went still… and Mook started to speak.

“Everyone was back in that place he gets you in,” said DiMarzio. “He’d talk about the event you just did, and about how it’s neck-and-neck, and it’s so close, and” — he slipped into a Mook impression — “‘do you want to look back at the end of this campaign, if we lose by 1,000 votes and think, I could have maybe pulled in a couple hundred votes myself if I’d just done 15 minutes harder each day?’”

It was contagious, DiMarzio said. Former colleagues described similar moments. Sometimes on a staff call — other times in the office. (One referred to it as “the preach.”)

It’s about motivating staff, volunteers, and voters… To do that, you must do more than merely talk about the candidate’s biography and policy positions…

“He could get you to give everything that you had, you would give it, and then thank him for it later,” said DiMarzio. “When you’re working more than 12 hours every day and it’s 10:30 p.m., you finish and think, I’m gonna strangle Robby. But at the end of the day, you’d be clapping with everyone else — and you believed it.”

To engage people, you must inspire them.

“By the end of it, you’re on Team Robby, and you’re not getting off.”

A lot of people are on Team Robby.

It is a big team, full of committed teammates. By the time Clinton lost 2008, it had a name: the “Mook Mafia.” Its members share one thing. They have witnessed or experienced firsthand a campaign with the 35-year-old operative.

In the Mafia group, Mook is equal parts friend, mentor, and figurehead. But for many of the affiliated, Team Robby is as much about its leader as the political philosophy he champions: namely, the power of “organizing.”

Mook is now at the helm of Clinton’s second presidential campaign — and that model will be tested like never before, on the biggest stage there is. In each of the early states, he’ll construct what he did eight years ago in Nevada: a true organizing program.

It will be the biggest challenge of his young career. Mook has managed plenty of races since 2008. Most recently, he helped Terry McAuliffe, the longtime Democratic fundraiser and Clinton family friend, become governor of Virginia. But now Mook is running a campaign larger than his background in field. And to accomplish what he does best, he’ll have to foster the environment his campaigns require.

At the center of the intractable, messy thing known as “Clintonworld,” Mook needs another Nevada: that rare mix of discipline and accountability with enthusiasm and encouragement that makes his field programs possible.

It will be a momentous first — for Mook, for his followers, and for a generation of operatives who see themselves as organizers. Never before has a manager constructed a national campaign operation like this, so deliberately or so squarely, under the banner of organizing or in the mold of the so-called “Engagement Campaign.”

Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at a high school in Las Vegas in 2007. Isaac Brekken / AP

About 10 years ago, Clinton was pitched on an early version of this strategy. It was, she was told, a “new kind of organizing” — and it was going to change politics.

This was the summer after the 2004 election, when a collection of campaign aides from that cycle got the chance to attend a private gathering of Democratic senators. It was an audience with some of the party’s top legislators — and a rare opportunity to speak directly with the senator many in the room viewed as the party’s next nominee.

So when the moment came, they talked to Clinton about organizing. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign had done something special in New Hampshire, they said. And there were technological advances rapidly changing the face of elections. Imagine the gains Democrats could make, the operatives told Clinton, if they could weave it all together.

Dean, of course, didn’t make it past February in the primaries. But for many of the operatives and activists who came up in politics around the time of his brief rise, the former Vermont governor helped redefine the very concept of “field.”

Most campaigns focused almost exclusively on building supporter lists, often from scratch. The effort requires identifying voters — supporters, undecideds, backers of the opponent, and various shades in between. The process, called “voter contact” in field-speak, is simple, time-consuming, and necessary. And it happens only one way: door by door, call by call, for hours and hours, every day. Campaigns can use staff and volunteers — but often, they pay a team of canvassers to do the work.

In New Hampshire, Dean aides flipped the traditional field operation on its head.

They pulled people off voter contact — away from the doors and the phones — and instead trained them as organizers in the tradition of the ’60s and ’70s. Using techniques from the protest and labor movements of that era — one-on-one meetings, house meetings — the Dean campaign set out to build a volunteer army.

The idea was this: Organizers sought to cultivate relationships with voters, enlist them as volunteers, and then develop those volunteers into “volunteer leaders” — who would invest even more time, take on even more responsibility, and recruit even more volunteers. The objective was an organization of devoted supporters, not cogs in the machine or paid labor. And the result, ultimately, was far greater capacity for voter contact.

The volunteers, together, could do more at the phones and the doors and on Election Day than the campaign ever could have otherwise. Or at least, that was the bet. Each half-hour spent on organizing — finding, meeting with, or training volunteers — was a half-hour that could be spent simply identifying voters.

But the risk was worth pursuing, the Democratic aides told Clinton in 2005.

Zack Exley, an adviser on the Dean race who attended the meeting with the senators, said that he and the other operatives urged Clinton to embrace the organizing practices of 2004 — and to push officials at the Democratic National Committee to do the same.

“We were saying to her, ‘Senator, you need to take care of that,’” Exley recalled of the exchange. “‘This is a new kind of field organizing that’s possible. If you connect it with the right online stuff, it’ll change everything. You gotta get on this.’”

Clinton was a receptive listener — but remained unconvinced.

“The organizing takes care of itself,” the senator told the operatives, according to Exley. “Once you have that clear message, then organizing just takes care of itself.”

She believed organizing would “rise up around a good message automatically,” Exley said. “Kind of like if setting up a field campaign was like placing a media buy.”

Three years later, Clinton lost on message and on organizing.

Barack Obama captured Democrats’ eagerness for something different. And in both Iowa and South Carolina, despite pressure from headquarters to keep up with voter-contact metrics, aides were given the room they needed. Many were among the upstarts of the 2004 races, an ascendant new class of operatives-as-organizers.

Clinton had some of them, too. Mook won in Nevada — and his mentor, Karen Hicks, the engineer of Dean’s New Hampshire program, oversaw the early states. But aides at headquarters hardly made a full-scale commitment to organizing. Even as Mook went to work building his field program, his operation remained badly under-resourced.

“Robby ran a very organized campaign on a shoestring in Nevada,” as Hicks put it.

One summer day, as temperatures climbed into triple digits out West, a Clinton aide back in Virginia sent a staff-wide email to say: There’s ice cream cake in the freezer.

“We never got any of the resources we needed,” said one former Nevada staffer. “We have 75-year-old ladies we’re sending out to canvass in the 110-degree heat… and somebody in Arlington is saying there’s ice cream cake in the freezer?”

This time, Clinton has made organizing the priority.

Campaign officials have said that the state directors in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada will not only have the resources they need — but they’ll also get the candidate often, and in settings tailored to benefit their organizing efforts. Internally, they have even replaced the word “field” with “organizing” in staffers’ titles.

As Exley put it, with Mook in charge, “she’s not making the same mistake this time.”

But there will be challenges. One question is whether the organizing model can actually scale effectively across the board in a presidential campaign. Obama came close in 2008. But before that, there were only isolated cases: John Kerry did it in Iowa in 2004. And Dean, whose campaign helped introduce organizing conceptually to a national electoral audience, really only did it in one state — New Hampshire.

Hicks, the operative who pulled it off, said the approach “lends itself to a primary” — and to a presidential candidate capable of exciting volunteer support. But there are two things organizing requires, and they stay the same, she said, “no matter what the campaign.” First is a commitment to disciplined goals. Second is a commitment to the “shared values” — the methods and the principles that guide the campaign.

Mook has excelled at both. But it doesn’t happen on its own. His campaigns come with requirements — a particular kind of leadership and a particular kind of anatomy.

If there is a prototype of the Mook campaign, it is Nevada in 2008.

For the evangelical belief in data — look to the sign that hung on his office wall, a reminder to himself and the staff of the three steps in their ongoing, data-driven process. “Set Goals, Experiment and Learn, Celebrate and Appreciate,” it read.

For the sense of “accountability,” fostered by the subculture of field and all its peculiarities — look to his idiosyncratic shorthand. One favorite: “No silos!” (Always said as if with an exclamation point.) The meaning: Keep communication open between departments. Another Mook term was the “plus delta.” (A twist on the “action item.”) This one, derived from the Greek letter denoting change, was a word for something specific that a staffer could improve or incorporate into his or her goals.

For the self-discipline — look to his fascination with “personal mastery,” which he preached to some of his staffers. It’s a concept from The Fifth Discipline, a 1990 book by MIT’s Peter Senge. Personal mastery is defined as a lifelong practice, divided into three parts: redefining and deepening your personal vision, focusing your energy, and “seeing reality objectively” as it pertains to others and, most important, to yourself. (The book touches on other Mook tropes: Senge writes that organizations are best built around a “shared vision,” not a leader’s goals or personality. And teams, he says, develop “extraordinary capacities” beyond the sum total abilities of individual members.)

And for his precise focus on the thing this was all for, the final goal — look to Dec. 12, 2007, when just one month before the caucuses, Mook got his regionals together to deliver big news. The numbers they’d all been working toward, the ones in the manual, wouldn’t be enough. They needed to double their goal — from 24,751 caucus-goers to 60,000.

Most of the team was alarmed. There’s a photo of two field staffers, Stuart Rosenberg and Dan DeBauche, as they listen to Mook in the meeting. (It still makes the rounds every few months.) Rosenberg is dismayed, bent over in his seat, head in hand. “Stu looks like he’s about to have a coronary,” said DeBauche, the regional field director for South Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City.

DeBauche is shown leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. He looks fine. “Everyone was freaking out, but internally we already had a plan,” he said. A couple nights before the meeting, Mook and Marlon Marshall, the field director, had pulled DeBauche in to help game out the new numbers. The expression, he said of the photo, reflected the calm of the boss. Mook knew it was possible, so long as they could answer the one question that mattered: “How do we get to 52% with this new reality?”

DeBauche, left, with Rosenberg, right, in the meeting with Mook and Marshall in December 2007. Courtesy of Zack Exley

That’s the thing, essentially, they were asking, of themselves and of one another, with every meeting, every organizing-book entry, every nightly report. And the answer — it was another question, one written in all caps on printouts, taped to the office wall:

“DID YOU REPORT YET?”

When organizers fell short, managers consulted the data — or the marble composition books — before advising adjustments. (This is phase two: “Experiment and Learn.”) If organizers were holding a good number of one-on-one meetings with potential volunteers but barely recruiting any, they’d get help on their asks. If they weren’t scheduling enough, they’d get help with time management.

“If your numbers weren’t good, we needed to understand why,” said DiMarzio, the deputy field director, of the organizing books. “That means you are going to use every minute of every day as effectively as you could be to elect Hillary Clinton.”

Mook made clear that meeting daily goals, even for the most junior members of the organizing team, was essential to 52% in Nevada. Three hours of call-time wasn’t three hours at a desk with a phone and a list of numbers — it was three hours for which you were beholden to your teammates, accountable for winning.

“He ensures that everyone understands their part in achieving our shared goal,” said Mara Lee, who served as Mook’s caucus director in Nevada.

The work itself was a grind. Field staffers on the campaign recalled daily disappointments: It wasn’t uncommon to invest hours in a volunteer who would then flake on a commitment. Or to spend a day working the phones with little success. (Consider the numbers: Say an organizer makes 150 calls to potential volunteer recruits. From those calls, the organizer might schedule 15 volunteer shifts. Of those shifts, 10 volunteers might show up. And in that small pool, the organizer might find one potential precinct captain. It’s hours of work for the possibility of one precinct captain.)

Once, as a “trial by fire” for a new batch of organizers, DeBauche asked they make phone calls for 12 continuous hours, from 9 a.m. “straight through until 9 p.m.,” he said.

He still hasn’t forgotten one. Lisa. She made 681 calls that day.

“Of course I remember,” he said. “That’s just ridiculous!”

Through the hot slog of Nevada, Mook worked just as hard as his team.

Eight years later, the old staff still expressed disbelief at his schedule: He did things like arrive at the office at 6 a.m., leave at 3 a.m., and then do it again the next day, they said.

Mook wanted the office to see him share in the work. He made it a frequent practice, across departments, to take on jobs here and there, said Lee. “He is notorious for doing the work himself: making fundraising calls, knocking on doors, marching in the parade, separating literature — or whatever task is needed.” Field staffers said Mook would jump into a regional’s office, grab a call-list, and run down 10 or 15 names.

He wanted to show them, Lee said, that “no one is too senior or too important.” He also wanted to set the bar high for work ethic, another former field staffer said. “He wanted us to see that he was always working so that we would do the same.”

And he took every opportunity: At headquarters, a business center in Las Vegas, the campaign occupied two ground-floor suites separated by a narrow courtyard. Mook chose an office with large plate window that provided a view outside — and into the other office suite across the way. Members of the field team recalled a ubiquitous image from their time in Las Vegas: Mook at his desk, always working, always within view.

The plain details of the Nevada campaign could sound grim: a strict, grinding affair, all in service of a losing candidate whose primary defeat meant her staffers could never completely share in the Democratic euphoria of election night 2008.

And yet, the large share of the field team talks about their time in the desert, living in 30-minute blocks, with warmth and zeal.

There is a second necessary piece to Mook’s campaign: It is cultural, and it begins with him. There’s no easy explanation of the tone he sets, how he sets it, and keeps it, even as the demands of the work grow. (“He’s just one of those people,” offered Exley.)

Not everyone left Nevada as devoted to Mook as his team of organizers. There were other departments — communications, operations. Mook ran them, but his mind was always on the program. And his core following was there, in the field department.

Those who worked as his organizers struggled putting into words exactly what draws people to the young campaign manager. But many are, and have been for years. Mook showed that from the start, in the summer of 2003, when a group from Howard Dean’s campaign spent a sweltering weekend in Durham, N.H., learning how to organize.

Hicks, leading the New Hampshire operation, had asked a veteran of the trade to act as their teacher. And so Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who worked as an organizer with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the ’60s and ’70s, spent those few un-air-conditioned days going over the basics: the relationship-building, storytelling, the one-on-ones, house meetings, and the nuts and bolts of the quantitative side.

That was the part Mook liked — he was, as Ganz observed, “the data guy.”

But to colleagues, he was just as skilled with the interpersonal element. “He was the best at people. Everybody coming out of the New Hampshire experience was a mad genius at field. He was a mad genius but didn’t come across that way,” said Exley. “People talk about the way Bill Clinton makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room — Robby has that.”

“I think people felt genuinely loved by him. He exuded this love of individuals.”

Some former staffers described him as they might a well-loved camp counselor. He was serious about the work, but could be goofy. He had an infectious enthusiasm for campaigns. And he put others at ease, old Nevada colleagues said, because he was comfortable with his own eccentricities — of which there were many.

He’d walk into the campaign office, and to greet the staff, let out one long “TEEEEEAAAAAAAAAMM.” There were state-specific variations, too. One former aide recalled him once yelling out to the Ohio office, “APPALAAAACHHIA WOOMMENNN.” (They’d been targeting female voters in the state’s Appalachian communities.)

When an organizer submitted his nightly report on time, without first needing a reminder, Mook might offer his praise by spelling out a fake URL — “www.accountability.com!” — as if a lighthearted pat on the back.

And then there were the nicknames. Everyone in Nevada had one. (Brian DiMarzio was “Bri Guy.” Dan DeBauche, “De-Boo,” pronounced DEE-boo. And Mara Lee, “Nobody Does It Like Mara Lee,” rhyming, of course, with the Sara Lee jingle.)

Mook makes his first television appearance as campaign manager last month. CNBC

Creating the right culture, Ganz said, ultimately becomes the “central skill” required of a manager on an organizing-based campaign. “The old school says there’s a boss that shouts at everybody and tells them what to do,” he said. “People are terrorized.”

“A campaign needs to be a story, a strategy, and a structure. The narrative is the values and the inspiration,” said Ganz. “The reason you need the details and the numbers is not just so that you can watch people — it’s so that you can learn.”

“You have to create a spirit of learning and of support.”

There was a larger effect in Nevada. People talk about the experience in personal, almost electrifying terms. Some are eager to explain, to try to tell you how it all felt in the end — the conditions, the exacting work, the shared culture, just being around him. It was something close to whatever they felt that rainy night in Las Vegas, soaking wet and clapping — something close, a few said, to “inspiration.” It was heightening.

“It’s a crazy thing to be that inspired by somebody who is just a guy, you know?” said DeBauche. “He gets the most out of people. If you have any self-awareness, you leave that realizing that you accomplished things you didn’t think were possible.”

“I knew it was happening as it was happening.”

For DiMarzio, Mook was like a coach. “He taught me how to organize my work, how to be disciplined and focused, to do things I didn’t think I could do,” he said.

“When someone teaches you, and empowers you, you start to think, I can do this. I can do amazing things. Maybe I can do anything. Robby said I could.”

The mechanics of Mook’s campaigns have produced an unusual thing. It has roots in Nevada and has grown in size and shape in the years since. It was, in the months running up to his job on the 2016 campaign, talked about in the media more than any of Mook’s previous accomplishments or qualifications as a manager.

And it still is, many of its members say, badly misunderstood.

To observers, the Mook Mafia and an email listserv by the same name most resemble a “cult.” The group is less an exclusive club, more a loose confederation of friends and former colleagues, men and women, from various campaigns, numbering around 150 people. The members are tight-knit enough to attend an annual reunion. They don’t disagree it’s cult-like. But they also don’t mean it in a bad way.

It’s just a by-product of the Mook experience.

They worked the hardest they ever had, felt more capable, more enabled than ever by a state director who didn’t appear concerned with his own standing. Just the team’s. And they bought into that, to the whole thing. They committed to the organization, to the process, the cause — the leader. It wasn’t “just for the candidate” that they all worked like hell, as one field staffer said, “but for Robby and the whole team — because you really were a team.”

The Mook Mafia has, in fact, been the most visible manifestation of that team — of the buy-in that produces what appears to be, to the outside, such strange devotion. The email list. The nicknames. (“Deacon Mook,” “Reverend Marshall.”) The hashtags. (“#Mafia4Life.”) The reunion itineraries (with maps, pictures, schedules). The grainy website, a WordPress blog from 2009, featuring job listings and a Mafia logo. (The bubble lettering is, in place of a color, filled with an image of Mook and Marshall.)

There’s been a conscious effort to keep the welcome feel of the campaign. But they haven’t always succeeded.

In 2008, an invite-only offshoot group called the “Free Radicals” materialized briefly, somewhere out of Indiana. It was too exclusive, a “Mafia elite” for senior staff — and so they shut the thing down. The incident was “small,” a former aide said, “but pretty big to a lot of people who weren’t invited to join in.”

The logo on the Mook Mafia’s old website, now defunct. Wordpress

It’s all very intense. And Mook is often the focus.

Members once printed Mafia tees that read “Est. 2004,” not because the group dates back that far — but because that’s the year Mook got his start in politics. And in 2009, when the WordPress blog went live, a member left a comment to congratulate the group: “glad Mafia finally got on the web. next feat: a facebook page for Robby Mook.”

Marlon Marshall, his longtime right hand, emailed the list more often than his counterpart and played a heavier role in facilitating events like the reunions. Mook, meanwhile, is known as a private guy. He is social, but not a partier. He does interviews, but not if he can help it. And he is the first openly gay person to manage a major presidential campaign, but he won’t be boasting about that or much else.

He is an unlikely fit for the figurehead role, and that may be why he’s in it.

Peter Senge spends a good deal of his management book, The Fifth Discipline, describing the qualities that make an effective leader. (“Personal mastery,” the concept Mook mentioned to other staffers in Nevada, plays a major role.)

There are leaders who are “heroes in their own minds,” writes Senge, and they will never successfully lead an organization. True leaders don’t think of their own interests: “Their focus is invariably on what needs to be done, the larger system in which they are operating, and the people with whom they are creating — not on themselves as ‘leaders.’” True leaders have shared vision, and that results in a loyal following.

As Senge puts it: “Leaders with vision are cult heroes.”

It was November 2014, and it looked like he had the campaign manager job, when early one morning, Mook and his group of friends ended up in the headlines. The first one, an ABC News “EXCLUSIVE,” landed at 6:01 a.m., on the same day the Clintons and their former aides kicked off a big reunion weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas: “Read the Secret Emails of the Men Who May Run Hillary Clinton’s Campaign.”

The group hadn’t been a secret. Neither was the Mook Mafia listserv. But the article, quoting a set of largely innocuous messages, cast the group as controversial, maybe even salacious. (The most “eyebrow-raising” email was a mock press release quoting Bill Clinton: “This is even more exciting than walking through the back of the Bellagio.”)

The Mook Mafia list was shut down that day.

At some point over the year, the group’s WordPress blog was also removed, its various pages scraped from the Internet Archive. And the last annual reunion, one of the longest Mafia traditions, never happened. Since late 2008, when they all met up in Nevada, members of the group have made time once a year for a weekend away. This was a first.

At no point did the story put Mook’s job in danger, but the incident rattled some Clinton advisers. There were theories about the leak: Some thought it came from a former staffer, one with an axe to grind against Mook. Some saw it as a move to boost another operative’s chances at campaign manager. Whatever the reason, some of the emails were said to have been circulating among reporters for months. And when they made it into print, when the listserv was deactivated — the Mook Mafia died a little.

Since the ABC News story, there has been no activity inside the group.

It was the earliest, starkest sign that Mook would have to work hard to create and preserve the very particular environment his campaigns require to succeed — and that building it in the middle of Clinton’s world would be an exceptional challenge.

In the four decades since Bill’s first run for office, he and his wife have acquired a tangled and unwieldy network of friends, associates, and confidants. Many worked on, advised, or meddled in unhelpful ways with Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid. The campaign’s outstanding feature, in the end, was its dysfunction. The infighting tampered with the team’s operation, and spirit, in a way Mook’s system could not abide.

Two months into the 2016 race, Mook has put the mechanics in motion. Senior campaign officials will tell you that Clinton is headquartered in Brooklyn — but that the lifeblood of the operation is in the early states. They’ll tell you that the state directors are building a volunteer leadership organization, that digital will enhance but not replace the classic model. They’ll tell you this is a campaign to win Iowa, the first of the caucus states.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s a difference between what Mook hopes to do and what Ganz, the organizing expert, described as a purely “mechanical” field program. People can “run around doing what they’re told, reading scripts, getting responses.”

Or they can participate in an organizing program. But to make it work, Ganz said, “people have got to support it, and protect it, and invest in it, and believe in it.”

In the 2010 manual Mook helped write, “Campaigning to Engage and Win,” creating a “deliberate culture” is ranked as the first task of any manager — ahead of the budget, of fundraising, of building the website, of developing trust with the candidate.

Every campaign has a culture — the way staff and volunteers engage with each other and with your opponent and their staff. The challenge is taking the time and creating the space to develop that culture deliberately… Create a culture of accountability, not rules… a culture of excellence… a culture of learning…

“Culture” is not a loose term. It is built into the program.

Strong campaigns are those where staff and volunteers are committed not just to the candidate, but also to each other in a common purpose to win.

Eight years ago in Nevada — in a one-page document about halfway through the training manual — Mook outlined his idea of the culture for the campaign, the “Team Values,” in five categories: Respect, Accountability and Discipline, Communication and Honesty, Leadership and Creativity, and Teamwork and Loyalty. A string of bullet points follows each heading, expanding on the tenets and qualities behind the five values.

The last in the list reads, “Know we are at our best when we are together.”

There will be no shortage of resources for field in this campaign, no question that the organizers will get what they need, no resentment in Iowa or New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, over ice cream cake in the freezer at headquarters.

The question is whether the entire staff — from the volunteers and senior strategists to the campaign chair and Bill Clinton — will support, protect, and invest in what Mook does… Whether he can be the leader he was in Nevada, overseeing a growing staff in Brooklyn, at the top of a billion-dollar Clinton operation… Whether he can walk down the hallway and duck into an office and run down 15 names on a call-list… Or head into the bullpen and let out one long, steady “TEEEEEAAAAAAAAAMM.” Can he do any of that this time? Can he give a nickname to someone who’s been in Clinton’s orbit for a decade, or get them talking about plus deltas or personal mastery or setting goals — or ask them to use every minute of every day, ask them to work harder than they ever have?

Can he make them followers — can he push them, inspire them, get them clapping in the dark at night?

This is what the culture requires. Everyone in the campaign must give themselves over to the rules, the structure, the rigor of adjustment; the constantly changing goals; the trust in common, sincere shared values; the purpose. Everyone must be accountable and must believe. Everyone must buy in.

His success will depend on it.





















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Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at ruby.cramer@buzzfeed.com.
 
 

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