Hillary Clinton ran a historic presidential campaign that was honorable, if flawed. The former New York senator was the first woman to top the presidential ticket of one of America’s two major political parties. The smart money was on Clinton, secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term, to be sworn into office as the 45hth president of the United States in January 2017.
But something unexpected happened. After consistently leading in the polls against the Republican nominee Donald Trump, Clinton lost. After the election’s bitter outcome, Clinton retreated to the woods of her suburban New York for daily walks to reflect on her loss. Her political ambitions were nil. She would not assume the role of leader of the Democratic Party in exile.
During her time away, Clinton worked on a book, out this week, titled “What Happened” — her perspective on the events that culminated in her loss to Trump despite his own scandal-plagued candidacy.
Democratic leaders have not been looking forward to Clinton’s return to center stage during what is expected to be a highly publicized book tour.
In the book, Clinton is less than flattering in her assessment of her primary election opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders. She even complains about decisions her old boss, President Barack Obama, made that she says hamstrung her during the primary season.
But the lion’s share of the blame for her loss is laid at the feet of former FBI Director James Comey, whose investigation into her handling of emails on a private server fueled distrust she was never able to overcome.
She also blames sexism, the misogyny of Trump, the interference of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the conniving of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as major factors in her loss.
Clinton does take much of the blame for failing to put forth a message that resonated with voters, but she is adamant that Comey’s investigation was an anchor around her neck at a time when voters were deciding between two relatively unpopular candidates.
While the book is guaranteed to be a bestseller, it can’t help but put Democrats still scrambling to find their way after such a historic loss on the defensive. From their perspective, there’s something unseemly about refusing to accept one’s defeat gracefully and move on.
But everyone has different ways of processing something as traumatic as a presidential loss, especially when it was unexpected. Clinton may not be president, but she’s still an American entitled to her opinion whether it is convenient for Democrats or not. For their part, many in her party hate the book already, even though they haven’t read it.
It will be up to historians to determine whether “What Happened” is a valuable chronicle to understanding the craziest political season in memory or a warmed-over melange of half-baked excuses.