Hillary Clinton to President Obama on Election Night: ‘I’m Sorry’ I Lost
It is traditional in the United States that, after a presidential election, the losing candidate recedes from the public eye for a period of self-imposed exile.
After five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices cast second—and far more consequential—votes for George W. Bush in December 2000, soon-to-be ex-Vice President Al Gore disappeared from the public eye, returning nearly a year later sporting a Failure Beard and a few extra pounds. After losing to incumbent President Barack Obama in 2012, Mitt Romney emerged from isolation only long enough to be photographed in clothes he’d clearly slept in, pumping his own gas. More recently, Hillary Clinton was spotted—clad in mourning black—by an eagle-eyed hiker in the woods of upstate New York, a latter-day Hawthorne heroine banished to the glens of Chappaqua.
These post-election disappearances are vital for public healing—allowing voters and candidates to put the campaigns in the rearview mirror.
But the Clinton clan’s relatively dignified exeunt from the political stage is about to be interrupted by the publication of an exhaustive postmortem examination of her fraught presidential run. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, written by longtime Clinton chroniclers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, aims to be the definitive answer to the question millions of hungover Americans asked on Nov. 9, 2016: “What the hell happened?”
Based on interviews with more than 100 unnamed sources from within Clinton’s orbit—each account given under the condition that the tales would be told only after the final ballot was counted—the 480-page report relays the behind-the-scenes drama behind many of the Clinton campaign’s most embarrassing blunders and unforced errors. More damning than any anecdote of petty infighting or a deadly devotion to data, however, is the book’s verdict on the main reason for Clinton’s loss: Clinton herself.
Despite many obstacles beyond her control—including a bitter primary opponent who refused to concede long after all routes to the nomination had been exhausted, a Republican rival whose personal attacks shattered all established standards of decency, and a Kremlin-orchestrated operation to thwart her campaign and delegitimize her incipient administration—Clinton’s race, Allen and Parnes report, was winnable.
But despite its buckets of money, its deep bench of supporters and surrogates, a general-election opponent in a constant state of implosion, and the imprimatur of a popular sitting president, Clinton’s campaign couldn’t overcome its biggest obstacle. “The variable she couldn’t change,” Allen and Parnes write, “was the candidate.”
Like other books about epic disasters (Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania) the book is mostly a catalogue of avoidable missteps that killed Clinton’s campaign by a thousand cuts. The campaign’s maladroit attempts at “damage control,” former campaign aides grumble in the book, often caused more damage than the inciting controversies—particularly in the case of the never-ending scandal over Clinton’s use of private email servers during her time as secretary of state.
When The New York Times first reported on Clinton’s email servers in March 2015, the campaign’s first response was to pretend it was no big deal. “I’m in this zen place now where I’m focusing on the website and telling myself this is all background noise!” emailed campaign manager Robby Mook.
Clinton herself was long oblivious to the maelstrom her email servers would eventually generate. After her first and what she presumed to be final public remarks on the issue, in which she was adamant that she never sent or received classified information on her personal email server, Clinton emailed campaign chairman John Podesta a thank-you for “helping steer the ship thru our first choppy waters.” Of course, those waters would later become a whirlpool—caused, in large part, by the candidate’s claims, later revealed to be inaccurate, that she had neither sent nor received classified information.
As the scandal brewed and Clinton’s public insistence that she’d done nothing wrong was picked apart, the campaign’s communications team botched her first national television interview of the campaign by accidentally booking with CNN’s Brianna Keilar, instead of Yahoo! News’ Bianna Golodryga, the wife of a former Clinton administration aide and Clinton’s choice for an interviewer.