- Clinton still finds ample blame to go around
- She admits she badly misjudged the environment in which she was running
CNN purchased the book — “What Happened” (Simon & Schuster, 494 pages) — from a Jacksonville, Florida, bookstore a week before its widespread release.
The defeated presidential contender offers a patchwork of explanations for what, exactly, did happen last year — some of which she insists were outside her control and some she concedes were her own fault.
“I go back over my own shortcomings and the mistakes we made. I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want — but I was the candidate,” she writes. “It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”
In a voice that swings from defiant to conciliatory to — at rare moments — deeply vulnerable, Clinton does assume ownership where the fault lines are obvious. And in overarching terms, she admits she badly misjudged the environment in which she was running and the candidate she was running against.
But Clinton still finds ample blame to go around. She writes bluntly that sexism hampered her ability to reach voters effectively. She offers unvarnished assessments of those who have cast doubts on her campaign, including Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, her former rival. And she singles out James Comey — a “rash FBI director” — for direct and lashing criticism.
The book also oozes with contempt for Trump, the campaign he ran and the President he has become.
Clinton, who admits in “What Happened” that she suffered an inability to say what she really felt on the campaign trail, seems to drop many of those tendencies here.
Clinton also opens up about her personal life with lengthy passages dedicated to her daughter, her mother and, most notably, her husband. She describes her marriage to former President Bill Clinton as one with “many, many more happy days than sad or angry ones” and confronts all the worst public assumptions about the relationship.
“I heard it again on the 2016 campaign … it’s just a marriage on paper now,” she writes, adding “(he is reading this over my shoulder in our kitchen with our dogs underfoot and in a minute he will reorganize our bookshelves for the millionth time … but I don’t mind because he really loves to organize those bookshelves).”
In addition to bemoaning the fascination with her relationship, she lambasts media coverage of her emails, singling out The New York Times as a repeat and high-profile offender. And she wonders aloud why, after terms as first lady, US senator, secretary of state and two-time presidential candidate, the public still just doesn’t seem to like her.
“What makes me such a lightning rod for fury? I’m really asking. I’m at a loss,” she asks her readers, before concluding: “I think it’s partly because I’m a woman.”
Analyzing the loss
Clinton’s memoir, her third, provides a narrative of a campaign that, in retrospect, was mismatched with the moment.
She tells readers she has spent the months since her defeat reading studies, reports and news articles (all cited in her book) that offer suggestions at how her style of campaigning was lost on an angry and disillusioned electorate. In places, “What Happened” reads like the term paper of a student studying the most unpredictable loss in modern American politics.
“I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under all our feet,” she writes. “I was running a traditional presidential campaign with carefully thought-out policies and painstakingly built coalitions, while Trump was running a reality TV show that expertly and relentlessly stoked Americans’ anger and resentment.”
Clinton makes frank admissions about the places she fell short. She acknowledges it was bad “optics” to deliver paid speeches to Wall Street banks after the financial meltdown last decade. She says her comment during a CNN town hall about putting coal miners out of business was the misstep “I regret the most.” And, as she has before, Clinton calls her decision to use a private email server during her time at the State Department as “dumb.”
But while she claims that a host of factors — including her own shortcomings — led to headwinds against her, Clinton identifies the final week of the campaign, highlighted by Comey’s revival of the email issue, as the moment that led to the bottom dropping out.
“Comey’s letter turned that picture upside down,” Clinton writes about her tarnished image, which she said had gone from a picture of a steady leader to one compromised by scandal.
In a lengthy middle section, Clinton unpacks Russia’s meddling in the election, openly wondering whether a more forceful public response from then-President Barack Obama could have changed matters.
And she describes her regret at not facing Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a US president — a form of vengeance she can now only imagine.
“There’s nothing I was looking forward to more than showing Putin that his efforts to influence our election and install a friendly puppet had failed,” she writes. “I know he must be enjoying everything that’s happened instead. But he hasn’t had the last laugh yet.”
Private moments made public
In vivid color, Clinton also recalls the whiplash of the last 24 hours of the campaign, from the euphoria of her last full day of campaigning to the pain and uncertainty on election night.
During their final event together, Clinton recalls Obama hugging her and whispering, “You’ve got this. I’m so proud of you.”
Her campaign, Clinton writes, was perilously vulnerable at the time, though, and Election Day was downhill after voting. She writes that as her husband was nervously “chomping on an unlit cigar,” she took a nap as the results were coming in. When she awoke, the “mood in the hotel had darkened considerably.”
Obama, hours after extolling her campaign, urged Clinton to concede to Trump on election night, not drawing out the 2016 campaign any longer than necessary. Clinton writes that her call with Trump was “without a doubt one of the strangest moments of my life.”
“I congratulated Trump and offered to do anything I could to make sure the transition was smooth,” she writes. “It was all perfectly nice and weirdly ordinary, like calling a neighbor to say you can’t make it to his barbecue. It was mercifully brief … I was numb. It was all so shocking.”
While Clinton’s book is full of praise for her Democratic colleagues, she also offers as blunt an assessment of their weaknesses as they offered of hers.
“Joe Biden said the Democratic Party in 2016 “did not talk about what it always stood for — and that was how to maintain a burgeoning middle class,'” Clinton writes. “I find this fairly remarkable, considering that Joe himself campaigned for me all over the Midwest and talked plenty about the middle class.”
Holding on to ‘love and kindness’
In describing her scrutinized marriage to the 42nd president, Clinton reveals deep resentments at the rumors and innuendo that have colored public speculation about the partnership since the late 1990s.
Writing with pique, Clinton is unapologetic for wanting to keep the personal aspects of her marriage private, even in a world where the details of her husband’s affairs have been widely aired.
“There were times that I was deeply unsure about whether our marriage could or should survive,” she wrote. “But on those days, I asked myself the questions that mattered to me: Do I still love him? And can I still be in this marriage without becoming unrecognizable to myself — twisted by anger, resentment, or remoteness? The answers were always yes.”
Clinton also appears to be wrestling with other demons throughout “What Happened” as she comes to terms with the aftermath of her devastating loss. Searching for answers, Clinton steadfastly insists that the woman who has spent decades persevering in a harsh spotlight won’t be embittered by a final humiliating blow.
In the same manner she has remained by her husband’s side, Clinton writes she is intent on remaining in public life — despite its dark moments and uncertain payout — instead of seething in solitude.
“There were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,” she writes. “But here I am.”
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