WHEN Hillary Clinton titled her book on her election defeat What Happened, it sparked US president Donald Trump to tweet: “I happened.hile he did crush her White House dreams, Clinton loyalists had been
While he did crush her White House dreams, Clinton loyalists had been hoping Trump’s troubled presidency would boost her political comeback.
That was until her book hit the streets. Now, many in the Democratic party are fuming at her.
While she accepts responsibility for her shock defeat, she also hits out at former US president Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russian interference in the election, and at former vice-president Joe Biden for saying her campaign did not focus sufficiently on the middle class.
All of which may be cathartic for her, but it’s not what Democrats want to hear and it won’t help her plans to drive a more progressive and inclusive agenda as a party powerbroker.
But Clinton has spent her life reinventing herself, and those who know her well say she has started to do so again and that her book is all part of that plan. She wants to settle scores, it seems, before moving on with redemption and reinvention.
And, as Democrats look on with a mixture of anger and awe while she ponders her next role, many believe her latest attempt at reinvention could well be her toughest.
For a start, most Democrats have not forgiven her for her loss to Trump, and many never will. They don’t want anything to do with the old Hillary and are sceptical of a new one.
She was undoubtedly the superior candidate for the White House, but one of her main weaknesses was that she never quite articulated a compelling case for her presidency.
She is still angry at Bernie Sanders, who challenged her for the Democratic nomination, saying his debate attacks caused “lasting damage”. This attitude is a mistake, because if she wants to stake out a powerful role in her party, and in the political life of her country, she’ll need more friends across the spectrum, including Sanders and his supporters.
A large number of them certainly did abandon her in the election and, as she points out, Sanders is not a Democrat. Still, as an independent and self-styled democratic socialist who votes with the Democrats in Congress, it was Sanders who came to the party’s rescue after Clinton’s defeat by championing a progressive agenda on healthcare, taxes, and education.
Clinton cannot afford to lose Sanders’ support now if she wants to espouse a similar agenda.
She still has a long way to go in her comeback mission, but those who know her well say she has healed the wounds of her humiliating defeat and has started flexing her political muscle with renewed vigour.
They cite the fact that, earlier this year, she launched Onward Together, a political action group aimed at advancing progressive causes, fundraising for candidates, and winning more power for Democrats in next year’s congressional elections.
“I created Onward Together,” she said, “to help recruit and train future leaders, and organise for real and lasting change.”
But can Clinton ever become an agent for “real and lasting change”, and drive that change into the forgotten corners of America, where those who supported Trump hunger for more jobs and better wages?
She and her party learned in the presidential election that tapping disenchantment with Trump didn’t cut it for her then and it won’t work now, unless it’s twinned with policies that include a better economic deal for average Americans.
Her book is also appearing at a time when there is a battle for the soul of her party, a battle between a pro-business liberal coalition and a social-democratic vision of political reform and economic justice.
If she wants the role of powerbroker, she will need to be in there energising her party, not fuelling further divisions by harking back to the ignominy of a lost election.
But if her new political group does help to power Democrats to victory and win back control of the House of Representatives or the Senate, such victories would certainly give her more clout and courage in her march to redemption.
Some within the Democratic party, however, are wondering whether she should still be even contemplating a major leadership role.
In continuing to press her own ambitions, they argue, she may be blocking the rise of a younger generation of Democrats who would invigorate the party.
“I think Secretary Clinton has got to define her role in American politics and she can play a real role in helping the Democratic party, but…we need new leadership,” says Garry Mauro, a
longtime friend of both Hillary and Bill Clinton.
“She can play a heck of a role. She just can’t play the dominant role.”
Yet Democrats still revere Clinton as the first woman to win the popular vote for the US presidency, by nearly a 3m tally over Trump, though she lost the crucial electoral college, and thus the presidency, by some 80,000 votes.
And every time she appears in public, she tends to be mobbed by fans. The first event today, in New York, at which she’s kicking off a three-month book-signing tour, was sold out within hours and the book itself catapulted to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list weeks before its release.
So those who know her well believe she is right to keep herself at the centre of American politics, in a pivotal role, for as long as possible.
“The fact that she has formed the Onward Together group means she plans to stay politically active, whatever form that takes,” says Stella O’Leary, president of the Irish American Democrats lobby group.
And might that include another run for the presidency? O’Leary, who has known Clinton for over two decades and who remains close to the family, tends to doubt it.
When the next presidential election comes around, in 2020, Clinton will be 72. Then again, Trump will be 74.
But three years is a lifetime in politics. If Clinton’s future is unpredictable, Trump’s is even more so, especially as the investigation into Russian interference in the election that brought him to power will have come to a head well before then.
“I think the outcome of the Russian investigations will affect the 2020 election and, until that’s complete, it’s hard to predict what Hillary will do,” says O’Leary. “If it turns out that she was severely damaged by the Russian intrusion in the election, that may prompt her to try again.”
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons suggests a better strategy might be for her to simply butt out. Simmons himself is familiar with being on the losing side, having worked for Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential, against George W. Bush.
“When Al Gore lost the election, he went to Europe, gained weight, and grew a beard. He walked away,” says Simmons.
But ‘walking away’ is not Clinton’s style.
Defiantly declaring her intention to remain in the political spotlight, she writes: “There were plenty of people hoping that I would just disappear. But here I am.”