Writing in Portfolio, Peter Feld makes a convincing argument that Mark Penn wasn't so much felled by conflict of interest, but by losing at his own game
: "Penn's biggest lapse, however, may have been his failure to correctly apply his signature approach, the creative segmenting of the electorate. This allowed Barack Obama's campaign to artfully leverage support from small groups who swing great weight in the limited universe of Democratic primary and caucus voters." Worth the read. Of course, that's assuming that Penn had a clear leadership role at any one time, and that the Clinton camp wasn't in reality a group of badly managed power players who never could agree on a proper branding strategy.