Clinton appears to have convinced herself that her role in her defeat was minor
The truth of the matter is this: Hillary Clinton's name was at the top of the campaign
Hillary Clinton’s list of who’s to blame for her 2016 election loss gets longer with every passing day.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Recode’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Clinton added a few more names to her list: The New York Times and the Democratic National Committee. That’s in addition to the media, James Comey, Donald Trump, the Russians and her supporters’ assumptions that she would win the race.
The one person missing from that list? Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Sure, in her Recode interview, Clinton made passing reference – as she has done in her other post-election appearances – to the idea that she made mistakes.
“I take responsibility for every decision I make – but that’s not why I lost,” she said.
The first half of that sentence is pure politician speak; the second half is what Clinton really believes.
In the wake of the campaign, and Trump’s at-turns tumultuous, at-turns disastrous first four-plus months in office, Clinton appears to have convinced herself that her role in her defeat was minor when compared to the various forces – media, Comey, Russians, gender and societal stereotypes against women in power – aligned against her. Even her own party’s national campaign committee – with political ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the helm!
“I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Clinton recalled to Mossberg and Swisher. “I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party,” Clinton said. “It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong.”
There is, of course, truth in Clinton’s after-action report. There’s no question that Comey’s last-minute decision to re-open the investigation into her private email server played a negative factor for her in the final 10 days of the race. As the CIA and FBI have noted, the Russians actively meddled in the election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. And Clinton is even sort of right about the DNC and Wasserman Schultz, who was beset by problems even before the email hack that led to the WikiLeaks releases.
But that is the reality of all political campaigns. Stuff happens. Good luck and bad breaks occur. Circumstances totally out of a candidate’s control often decide – or heavily influence – how voters make up their minds. Here’s one example: Clinton’s private email server had absolutely nothing to do with the email hack via WikiLeaks. But the two issues – both of which dealt with email – got conflated as one issue in the minds of lots and lots of voters. And there was nothing Clinton could do about it.
The truth of the matter is this: Hillary Clinton’s name was at the top of the campaign and signed on the checks her staff received. It was her decision to set up a private email server and exclusively use it for her communications as secretary of state – the first person in her position to do that.
She was the one who kept giving high-paid speeches to the likes of Goldman Sachs even after it was clear she was going to run for president. (“They paid me,” Clinton explained Wednesday.)
She was the one who struggled to grasp – despite the repeated warnings of her staff – that the email issue was causing her major image problems on questions of honesty and trustworthiness.
She was the one who struggled to put away a once-quixotic challenge by Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
She was the one who premised her entire general election strategy on the idea that once voters knew who Trump was and what he said, they would have no choice but to vote for her.
She’s the one who decided against visiting Wisconsin even one time between the Democratic convention and the general election.
All of those things played roles – you can debate how big or how small – in her loss. And Clinton had control of every single one.
There’s a tendency – and this is the most human of traits – to revise your own history to make yourself look as good as possible. And Clinton’s revising is aided by a large swath of Americans who simply can’t believe a) Trump won and b) Trump is carrying himself as president in the way he is. There’s also the fact – as Clinton has become fond of noting – that she won the popular vote over Trump by almost 3 million votes.
But take away everything else and you are left with this: Hillary Clinton was the candidate. We pick presidents via the electoral college not the popular vote. Trump won. Clinton didn’t.
While Clinton says she takes full responsibility for her defeat, everything else she says about the election belies that rhetoric. What taking the full blame and responsibility actually means is saying this: There were lots and lots of circumstances outside my control that hurt my chances. But at the end of the day, it was my campaign and my name on the ballot. And that means I lost and I own that.
Clinton isn’t saying that. Probably because she simply doesn’t believe it.