Hillary Clinton emerged from political hibernation Tuesday by declaring herself “part of the resistance” to Donald Trump’s presidency — and spreading blame for why it is not her sitting in the Oval Office.
Making a rare public appearance, Clinton attributed her surprise loss in the 2016 election to interference by Russian hackers and the actions of FBI Director James B. Comey in the campaign’s homestretch.
“If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president,” Clinton told moderator Christiane Amanpour, the CNN anchor, at a Women for Women International event in New York.
Clinton stated broadly that she takes “absolute personal responsibility” for her failure to win the White House. Yet the Democratic nominee declined to fault her strategy or message, nor did she acknowledge her own weaknesses as a campaigner or the struggles by her and her advisers to at first comprehend and then respond to the angry mood of broad swaths of the electorate.
Instead, Clinton attributed her defeat to a range of external forces, including saying she was a victim of misogyny and of “false equivalency” in the news media.
Clinton said she was confident that she was on track to winning the election until two things reversed her momentum: the release of campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which were allegedly stolen by Russian hackers, and Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress that he had reopened the bureau’s investigation into her use of a private email server.
“I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off — and the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling [and] persuasive,” Clinton said.
On Nov. 6, two days before the election, Comey wrote again to Congress saying that the FBI had found no new evidence to change its conclusion that Clinton should not face criminal charges.
Clinton talked about “the unprecedented interference, including from a foreign power whose leader is not a member of my fan club” — referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom she tangled as secretary of state.
When Amanpour asked whether she thought misogyny contributed to her loss as the first female presidential nominee, Clinton said, “Yes, I do think it played a role.” She added that sexism “is very much a part of the landscape politically and socially and economically.”
Amanpour tried to draw out self-reflection from Clinton.
“He had one message, your opponent, and it was a successful message: ‘Make America great again,’ ” Amanpour said of Trump. “Where was your message? Do you take any personal responsibility?”
“I take absolute personal responsibility,” Clinton said. “I was the candidate. I was the person who was on the ballot.”
But then Clinton went on to blame Comey and the Russian hack of Podesta’s emails for her loss. “There was a lot of funny business going on,” she said.
Clinton added that she would detail her mistakes in her forthcoming book. “You’ll read my confession and my request for absolution,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.
Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist who advised two losing presidential nominees, Al Gore and John F. Kerry, said Clinton is not applying enough weight to her own failures, especially her economic message, in analyzing her loss.
“I have a measure of real sympathy, but it is also true that you can’t just blame the things that happened to you,” Shrum said. “Part of credibility here begins with saying, ‘These were things that happened to me that really hurt and could’ve cost me the election, but there were decisions I wish I made differently as well.’ ”
Losing a close presidential race can be devastating, and even traumatic, for a politician who long aspired to the office. After his 2000 defeat, Gore grew a beard and gained weight. Following his 2012 drubbing, Republican Mitt Romney retreated into seclusion in La Jolla, Calif., where he was spotted pumping his own gas, with his hair preternaturally flopping over his forehead.
“When a presidential candidate loses, they usually fall into a deep funk,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “They’re overtaken by a sense of personal mistakes that they made, but also trying to blame great external forces that robbed them of the prize.”
This article was written by Washington Post Correspondence Philip Rucker