Hillary Clinton is back. And surprise, surprise: Many Americans, both liberal and conservative, still despise her.
Liberals carped at her for taking some time to herself and skipping the Women's March (see, she never cared what happened to us!), and now they loathe her for coming back (you're standing in the way of progress!). Conservatives, meanwhile, continue to hammer her for making "excuses" about her election loss, retrench old tales of her husband's indiscretions, and peddle an array of escalating conspiracy theories about her health. News of her starting a political organization, giving some interviews, and delivering a commencement speech has been met with shock, revulsion, and outright horror, and not just by the press, but also by people who ostensibly supported her. This is far worse than any vitriol directed at the last four men who preceded her as presidential bridesmaids. Why is everyone still so angry at her?
Losing a race to be the president of the United States after a campaign that lasts 18 months or longer must be a genuinely excruciating experience. Imagine being humiliated while the entire planet follows along in real-time as The New York Times updates its odds against you. Imagine also that you are a woman and that the unqualified creep who defeated you admitted on tape to sexually assaulting women. Imagine also that Anthony Weiner, of all people, played a key role in your loss.
Whatever you think of her and her campaign strategy, Clinton is nevertheless a human being who sustained the worst and most unexpected gut-punch in presidential politics since Thomas Dewey. To make matters worse, she knew that the consequences of her loss would be extremely dire for the country, as indeed they have been. Who can blame her if she needed to take long walks in the woods to recover her sanity?
Losing presidential candidates often spend some time out of the public eye. Al Gore famously disappeared after his 2000 election loss to the charming but talentless trustafarian George W. Bush before re-emerging several years later as a beloved climate activist. John Kerry and John McCain, of course, were sitting senators who did not have the luxury of going into hiding for an extended period of time. But Mitt Romney went AWOL after his 2012 loss to Barack Obama and has kept perhaps the lowest profile of America's recent runners-up.
What is different about Hillary Clinton is the rampant misogyny still being directed at her, even now; the palpable disgust at her re-emergence; the demand that she get out of the way; the call for her to accept total responsibility for her loss without even acknowledging outside factors like the Russian disinformation campaign, the Comey letter, or GOP voter ID laws that cost her Wisconsin.
Gore, who managed to lose (okay, sort of lose) an election despite being the sitting vice president in an administration with 65 percent approval, blamed a hostile media, the Supreme Court's absurd one-off decision to halt the proceedings in Florida, and the butterfly ballots. In 2007, Evgenia Peretz of Vanity Fair described him thusly: "He is the Bono of the environment, the Cassandra of Iraq, the star of an Oscar-winning film, and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. To the amusement of his kids, some people now actually consider him cool." Gore reportedly got paid at least $175,000 per speech after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He got divorced. And yet, in 2009, he had a 58-37 approval spread. This is the man whose campaign mistakes inflicted eight years of calamitous misrule on the country. If he ever apologized, I must have missed it.
Kerry never accepted one iota of responsibility for becoming the second consecutive Democrat to lose an election to George W. Bush. Years later, as detailed in this New Yorker profile, he clung to a ludicrous conspiracy theory and nurtured "the suspicion that in certain states, particularly Ohio, where the Electoral College count hinged, proxies for Bush had rigged many voting machines." He blamed his campaign manager, Bob Shrum. He blamed the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, that pack of lying opportunists who slimed Kerry's war record. (Side note: Swift Boater Jerome Corsi now works for InfoWars and just got White House press credentials. Yay!). What he did not do was cop to any of his own mistakes. He went back to the Senate, where no one demanded that he give up his seat for a younger politician. The final poll taken about John Kerry while he was Obama's secretary of state gave him a 10-point positive spread in his approval rating. Gandhi he is not, but it is safe to say that America has forgiven John Kerry for his sins.
In October 2009, just one year after his crushing loss to Obama, McCain was regarded favorably by 54 percent of respondents, remained a press darling, and never disavowed his choice to make the wilderness wastrel Sarah Palin his running mate, a decision that by one estimate cost him 2 million votes. Had the Great Recession not struck during the campaign, Palin may well have been remembered as the key to his election loss. McCain was within striking distance of Obama before an embarrassing series of interviews revealed Palin's political ignorance and the September 2008 economic meltdown then put the race decisively out of reach. In an interview days after the election, McCain blamed the national political climate and stood by Palin. He failed to list a single mistake his campaign had made. He said he "slept like a baby." Today he remains a curmudgeonly favorite despite not lifting a finger to hold President Trump accountable.
In a Washington Post interview four months after the 2012 election, Romney blamed (you guessed it!) the media, and, incomprehensibly, the black and Hispanic voters who went overwhelmingly for Obama. "ObamaCare was very attractive, particularly to those without health insurance." He didn't mean this as a grudging admission of ObamaCare's virtues, but rather as a "makers and takers" dig against people who committed the terrible crime of wanting to be able to go to the doctor and then voting for the person who made it possible. Yet when he re-emerged last year during the 2016 campaign, Romney was greeted with relief and hosannas by GOP elites for criticizing Trump. After Trump won, the entire country was hanging on every detail of Romney's sad little candlelight dinner with Trump, hoping against hope that he would be appointed secretary of state.
Here's a real question: If you're someone that despises Hillary Clinton (but loves Joe Biden, a man whose public record and belief system is completely indistinguishable from hers), and she went out tomorrow morning and was like, "Hey guys, I'm really sorry, I should have spent more time in Wisconsin and Michigan. The 'deplorables' comment was a terrible mistake. Honestly I probably should just never have run," would you come grudgingly around? Would you tell a pollster in five years that, in fact, yes, you do like her? Is there anything she could do to diminish your antipathy, other than simply not existing?
None of this is to suggest that Clinton should be absolved of her campaign mistakes, or that she was the right choice in the primary, or that you must immediately rush to your computer right now and drop some cheddar into Onward Together. But Hillary Clinton isn't standing in anyone's way. Millions of people still adore her and enlisting them through a new organization can't hurt. Admirably, she refuses to throw her staff under the bus, telling New York's Rebecca Traister that "I will never say anything other than positive things about my campaign. Because I love the people that led it, worked in it." In contrast to many past losers, she told CNN's Christiane Amanpour, "I take absolute personal responsibility. I was the candidate, I was the person who was on the ballot." Her boiling anger at the press and at various out-of-nowhere campaign developments doesn't make her worse than Gore, Kerry, Romney, and McCain — it makes her one of them.
And that really only leaves one thing that is just so very different about Hillary Clinton. Let's see if you can guess what it is.