It has been over five months since Clinton lost the presidential election in a shocking upset to longtime businessman and rising populist figure Donald Trump. Since then, Clinton has had ample time to reflect on what went wrong with her campaign. A failed candidate truly devoted to Democratic Party ideals would have, in the short-term, adopted a self-effacing attitude, focused on her own flaws, and explained what the Democratic Party can learn from her loss to achieve future success. In the long-term, such a person would remove herself from the spotlight to allow others to lead the Democratic Party moving forward. Unfortunately, Clinton is not such a person. Her arrogant refusal to focus on her own flaws and withdraw from the spotlight is hindering the Democratic Party’s future prospects.
Shortly after her loss, Clinton remarked that she simply wanted to “curl up with a good book and never leave the house again.” But as time wore on, she returned to the public eye. In her first interview since the presidential election, Clinton admitted that she had personally come to terms with the devastation of her loss, but that “as an American” she remained profoundly worried by the trajectory President Trump has laid out for America so far during his presidency. Although these are worrying times for America and the Democratic Party in particular, Clinton claimed that progressive politics has a “bright future.” Indeed, she clearly thinks that this future includes her, as she is eager to “use her voice for the benefit of the Democratic Party.”
Despite the immense variety of factors that contributed to her defeat, Clinton and her allies have focussed solely on those outside of her control. Clinton herself recently pinpointed misogyny in American culture as a primary factor in her loss; her campaign manager Robby Mook claimed that FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress regarding the investigation into her email server was to blame; and members of past Obama administration have contended that Russian interference in the election undermined her success. But too few Clinton allies, it seems, have been willing to place even some of the blame for her loss—and the resounding impact it will have on our country for years to come—on Hillary Clinton herself.
If Clinton truly wants to help the Democratic Party, she must own up to her own flaws so that the Democratic Party can recover. As troubling and upsetting as it may be to admit, Clinton is ultimately responsible for her defeat in the presidential election, not because she was unqualified nor because her policies were unsound, but because she was arrogant, starting with her disregard of Bernie Sanders’ supporters and her avoidance of the Rust Belt.
For example, after Clinton’s campaign was mired in controversy due to accusations of conspiring with the Democratic National Committee to rig the Democratic primary against the upstart progressive candidate Bernie Sanders, Clinton never made amends by attempting to reach out to Sanders’ supporters with authenticity or genuine passion in the general election. Instead, she expected them to fall in line and support her presidential candidacy simply because of her credentials and the power of the Democratic Party establishment. “Bernie Bros,” however, continued to agonize over whether to vote for Clinton and preserve some semblance of progressivism or gamble on Trump to shake up Washington. But on election night, many Sanders supporters, frustrated with Clinton’s disregard of their interests and desires, turned to Trump - who was perceived, perhaps wrongly, as the lesser of two evils - out of spite and anger to substantiate their growing populism.
Moreover, as the presidential election neared, Clinton concentrated her efforts largely on swing states and reach states such as Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Arizona, rather than shoring up and solidifying her support in key blue states she had to retain. In so doing, she undervalued the importance of campaigning in the Rust Belt region, a longtime Democratic stronghold that has long suffered from economic duress and population decline due to deindustrialization. Clinton was so confident in Wisconsin that she decided not to even campaign there, becoming the first major party nominee since 1972 to not do so. Trump’s ability to crack the “blue wall” created by blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt that Clinton had relied on heavily proved to be her undoing. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders performed exceptionally well there during the primaries, winning both Wisconsin and Michigan. Clinton either did not fully grasp the magnitude of the populist, anti-trade, anti-globalist movement driven by economic desperation in the Rust Belt or believed that she had the political capital to ignore those voices and still be successful. In any case, the Clinton campaign, in its infighting and overconfidence, was mistaken, and its arrogance proved to be incredibly costly.
There is no doubt that a myriad of influencing forces was working against Clinton, from Russia to the FBI to misogyny, and her supporters are right to point them out as part of the entire 2016 post mortem. But Clinton was far from a popular or well-liked candidate, for good reason. Trump was—and largely, still remains—the most unpopular political figure in recent memory, but Clinton was not far behind by any stretch. As liberals everywhere joked at Trump’s discombobulated and seemingly chaotic campaign, they forgot to remind themselves that their own candidate, though qualified, was nowhere near the surefire victor that they wanted and imagined her to be. Hillary Clinton lost to a man who was thought of as incompetent, hypocritical, whiny, derogatory, and who was more thoroughly disliked than any other presidential candidate in modern history, and her inability to fully come to terms publicly with her own flaws only accentuates the arrogance that cost her the election. In fact, her failure to accept the substantial pitfalls of her campaign only indicates further arrogance on her part.
Although many in the Democratic Party who sympathize with Clinton defeat and share policy positions with her platform would certainly welcome her efforts in the Democratic resistance to Trump with open arms, Clinton has, by virtue of her own lack of humility, become more of a political liability than an asset, let alone a frontline leader figure. The Democratic Party needs to move on from Clinton to dissociate itself from the arrogance that led to its defeat under her guidance. If such a shift in mindset is not accomplished—and quickly—the Democrats will risk continued losses in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. If the Democrats cannot appeal to the two constituencies alienated from Clinton (progressive millennials and the Rust Belt white working class), they are doomed in future political races.
Freedom to speak one’s mind does not always require that one does so; sometimes, one needs to have the self-awareness to understand that one’s presence is, despite one’s best intentions, detrimental to a greater cause. That is the case with Hillary Clinton today. Though the Democratic Party may have a bright future, Clinton stymied, rather than advanced, that future. Clinton ought to step aside from politics in order to pave the way for a new Democratic Party unhampered by the stifling presence of a figure who could never overcome her own personal shortcomings, even when it mattered most to us all.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.
Aman Tiku is a second year majoring in history and political science. Last summer, Aman interned at the FDA working on social science research projects. He writes a column on political developments in the Asia-Pacific at the Gate, having lived abroad for much of his life as an American citizen. On campus, he also serves as a Staff Editor on The University of Chicago Journal of Human Rights.