At the risk of alienating both sides of the ongoing liberal punch up between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, I’m going to say it: Hillary Clinton must take unequivocal responsibility for her loss to Donald Trump in 2016. While she has every right to blame the media, the FBI and Russia for the final result, it does her no good to even bring it up.
This position isn’t going to be popular given militant Sanders supporters appear to be hell bent on blaming Clinton for everything (they are wrong), and Clinton supporters hell bent on blaming everyone else for their candidates’ failures (they are wrong too).
During her first public interview, Clinton told Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women event in New York that, “I take absolute responsibility. I was the candidate. I was the person that was on the ballot.”
However, she also stated in no uncertain terms that forces outside of her control played a substantial role in her loss:
“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off,” Clinton said. “And the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling, persuasive.”
This is most certainly true, but if Clinton is going to be a useful ally in the war against Trump, she needs to stop talking about it — immediately.
One of the biggest problems I’ve had with Hillary Clinton over the years is her spectacular propensity to screw things up for herself by not taking responsibility for mistakes early on and nipping the potential problem in the bud. Clinton has long been a victim of a vicious, deeply misogynistic right wing smear campaign to discredit her, but she has not helped herself when confronted with obvious mistakes and character flaws she could easily own and move on from. One of the greatest attributes President Obama had was his quickness to take full responsibility for the slightest mistake, and fully own his character flaws. The contrast between Obama and Clinton in 2008 was incredibly stark as Clinton unraveled in the face of a candidate who graciously accepted his own imperfections and inadvertently held a mirror to Clinton to see her own. This was something Clinton was not prepared for and she self destructed during the final months of the grueling contest.
The perception that she felt entitled to the presidency was key to her downfall against both Obama and Trump, and she has done little to alter it over the years. While her perceived entitlement is largely product of nasty right wing propaganda, those who know her well have also spoken about it. In a leaked email sent by Colin Powell to private equity investor Jeffrey Leeds, Powell — a close friend to the Clintons — had the following to say:
Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris. I told you about the gig I lost at a University because she so overcharged them they came under heat and couldn’t any fees for awhile.
I spoke to a close Clinton confidant after her loss to Trump who told me pretty much exactly the same thing. “She can be greedy,” he told me. “They [the Clintons] like the high life and they expect it automatically.”
In another leaked email, Powell was particularly scathing about Clinton’s inability to stop the infamous email scandal that helped bring her candidacy down:
“Sad thing it [sic] that HRC could have killed this two years ago by merely telling everyone honestly what she had done and not tie me into it,” he wrote.
“She keeps tripping into these ‘character’ minefields.”
Powell was far, far harsher about Trump, (calling him an “international pariah” and a “national disgrace”), so it isn’t so easy to dismiss him as a biased observer.
This inability to confront these character minefields is the reason why liberals have never particularly warmed to Clinton, despite the fact that she is a formidable politician and one of the most qualified candidates to run for president ever. Flaws aside, Clinton is apparently great to work for, inspiring, charismatic and thoughtful — yet this has never been translated into her public persona. Her pro-corporate politics would have been far more palatable to the progressive wing of the party if she had been able to do this (as Obama, himself a pro-corporate Democrat, had been able to), but it was the final piece of the puzzle she could never figure out.
David Axelrod, who managed both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, had this to say about Clinton’s take on why she lost the election:
Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say, ‘Don’t put any resources into Michigan until the final week of the campaign.’ One of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server…
She said the words ‘I’m responsible,’ but everything else suggested that she really doesn’t feel that way and I don’t think that helps her in the long run. It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump, let me tell you. He was the least popular presidential candidate to win in the history of polling, and so it wasn’t just the Comey letter. The fact that she was in a position to lose because of the Comey letter is something that deserves some introspection.
Axelrod might have been a little harsh on Clinton given the fact that she still won the popular vote by almost 3 million people, but his sentiment is, I believe, correct.
Clinton told Amanpour that she is “Back to being an activist citizen ― and part of the resistance,” which is most certainly a good thing. But how she chooses to participate going forward will determine her own relevancy as a force for good in American politics. Part of my own uneasiness about Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was the fact that her husband was the president before her. America is, or at least should be, a democracy, not a dynasty traded between competing families. Clinton never seemed to understand why this was a problem for younger generations desperate to see the status quo upended, and if she wants to be helpful forward, she’ll need to take a backseat and allow new blood into the party. This does not mean she needs to disappear from public life at all– it just means the new Hillary must be a far more self-effacing version of the old one. And that starts with letting others bring up Russia, Comey and the media when discussing her loss to Donald Trump, and taking unequivocal responsibility for losing an election that she really should have won.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.