With the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, there was no one in the primary race with higher negatives, as they say, than Mark Penn, her beleaguered chief strategist. Polarizing doesn't begin to describe him, based on the unrelenting shitstorm of criticism hurled his way. From the loaded (did he really not know that California wasn't winner-take-all, and did his firm really get paid $13 million?) to the just plain schoolyard-bully mean (he's socially inept, nobody likes him, he has no friends!), it was brutal. Through it all, Penn never once defended himself, even as the Blame Penn chorus grew louder. And when he did put himself out there, to spin for Hillary, it didn't always go so well, as in the infamous (last) time he went on Hardball to promise America that the Clinton campaign would not be making an issue of Obama's college drug use, vowing that they wouldn't be talking about the cocaine. Or the cocaine. Causing Joe Trippi to jump down his throat, in a live and excruciating moment, and Terry McAuliffe to tell him to stop.
Oh, and he also got demoted. But not really.
It couldn't have been easy to be Mark Penn.
A disclosure/caveat: I once profiled Penn's wife, Nancy Jacobson, for another magazine and, in the years that followed, got to know her personally. My previous encounters with her husband were all of the cocktail-party variety, but I never found him to be the least bit socially inept. And I always found the backstory compelling: Raised by a single mother who made $10,000 a year as a schoolteacher after his father—a union organizer and kosher-poultry dealer—died when Mark was 10. So determined to go to Harvard that when he got wait-listed, he jumped on a train from New York and knocked on the door of the head of admissions to personally plead his case. (He got in.)