(NEW YORK) — For Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential election was painful yet exhilarating, historic yet tragic, a roller coaster ride she recalls in vivid detail in her new book, What Happened.
In the book, released Tuesday, Clinton examines the many theories about why she lost and reflects on the mistakes, character and surprises of the campaign.
While she accepts ultimate responsibility for her loss to Donald Trump, she also sharply criticizes a wide range of individuals, institutions and biases that she believes affected her ability to win the presidency.
Then–FBI Director James Comey, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, The New York Times and sexism are all named in Clinton’s exploration of why the 2016 campaign unfolded the way it did.
The book goes into detail about some of the campaign’s most dramatic moments, from her perspective.
Here is a look at some of the key passages:
Accepting the blame
Clinton writes that she has spent “nearly every day” since the election trying to figure out why she lost and ultimately accepts responsibility for it, regardless of why it happened.
“You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want — but I was the candidate,” Clinton writes. “It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”
She tried to avoid the mistakes of her 2008 campaign, when she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, but says she felt unable to break through stereotypes amid the country’s angry mood during the 2016 campaign.
“I had tried to learn the lessons of 2008, and in many ways ran a better, smarter campaign this time,” Clinton says. “But I had been unable to connect with the deep anger so many Americans felt or shake the perception that I was the candidate of the status quo.”
Though she understood some of feelings toward her, which were painful to hear, she also believes her gender affected the election.
“A lot of people said they just didn’t like me. I write that matter-of-factly, but believe me, it’s devastating,” Clinton writes. “But I think there’s another explanation for the skepticism I’ve faced in public life. I think it’s partly because I’m a woman.”
‘One of the strangest moments of my life’
While Clinton recounts numerous dramatic moments from the campaign, her description of her phone call to Trump to concede is a fascinating look at the one of the campaign’s final moments.
“‘Donald, it’s Hillary.’ It was without a doubt one of the strangest moments of my life,” she begins. “I congratulated Trump and offered to do anything I could to make sure the transition was smooth. He said nice things about my family and our campaign. He may have said something about how hard it must have been to make the call, but it’s a blur now, so I can’t say for certain. It was all perfectly nice and weirdly ordinary, like calling a neighbor to say you can’t make it to his barbecue. It was mercifully brief.”
The Comey problem
While Clinton blames herself for many of her campaign’s shortcomings, she singles out Comey and his decisions in the investigation surrounding her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
“Comey made a choice to excoriate me in public in July and then dramatically reopen the investigation on October 28, all while refusing to say a word about Trump and Russia,” she writes. “If not for those decisions, everything would have been different.”
She continues, “Comey himself later said that he was mildly nauseous at the idea that he influenced the outcome of the election. Hearing that made me sick.”
Clinton says she believes his actions at such a late stage in the election — publicly questioning her after she was cleared in the email investigation and sending a letter to Congress after discovering emails on a laptop shared by her longtime aide Huma Abedin and her husband, Anthony Weiner — were inappropriate and damaging to her campaign.
She relives the moment she received word of Comey’s letter to Congress as her campaign plane was about to land in Iowa for a rally.
“We didn’t have a lot of information, because the internet had been very spotty on the flight, but Jennifer [Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director] said it seemed Comey had sent a brief, vaguely worded letter to eight different congressional committees saying that in connection with an unrelated case,” Clinton says. “‘the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent’ to the previously closed investigation into my handling of classified information — although ‘the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.'”
“Jason Chaffetz, the then-chairman of the House Oversight Committee, immediately tweeted with glee: ‘Case reopened,'” she continues. “Was this a bad joke? It had to be. The FBI wasn’t the Federal Bureau of Ifs or Innuendoes. Its job was to find out the facts. What the hell was Comey doing?”
Clinton goes on to describe Abedin’s reaction to the revelation.
“When we heard this, Huma looked stricken. Anthony had already caused so much heartache. And now this. ‘This man is going to be the death of me,’ she said, bursting into tears. After more than 20 years working with Huma, I think the world of her, and seeing her in such distress broke my heart,” she says. “In the days that followed, some people thought I should fire Huma or ‘distance myself.’ Not a chance. She had done nothing wrong and was an invaluable member of my team. I stuck by her the same way she has always stuck by me.”
No love from Russia
Clinton also goes into detail about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and her worries about Trump’s view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who she believes harbors a personal grudge against her.
“He doesn’t just like Putin — he seems to want to be like Putin, a white authoritarian leader who could put down dissenters, repress minorities, disenfranchise voters, weaken the press and amass untold billions for himself. He dreams of Moscow on the Potomac,” she says of Trump.
Clinton expands on her relationship with Putin, one she describes as testy and tinged with sexism.
“Our relationship has been sour for a long time. Putin doesn’t respect women and despises anyone who stands up to him, so I’m a double problem,” she says. “After I criticized one of his policies, he told the press, ‘It’s better not to argue with women,’ but went on to call me weak. ‘Maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman,’ he joked. Hilarious.”
The battle with Bernie
Even though she defeated and was eventually endorsed by Sanders for the Democratic nomination, Clinton has some strong words when it comes to how he damaged her campaign, despite their alignment on several issues.
“His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign,” she writes.
Clinton expands on her indignation after Sanders attempted to characterize her as out of touch and himself as a progressive champion.
“It was beyond frustrating that Bernie acted as if he had a monopoly on political purity and that he had set himself up as the sole arbiter of what it meant to be a progressive,” she says, “despite giving short shrift to important issues such as immigration, reproductive rights, racial justice and gun safety.”
“I admit I didn’t expect Bernie to catch on as much as he did,” she continues. “I nevertheless found campaigning against him to be profoundly frustrating.”
Clinton does not mince words in her criticisms of Trump, calling him “the perfect Trojan horse” for Putin, a “clear and present danger to the country and the world” and questions whether he takes the presidency seriously.
“I sometimes wonder: If you add together [Trump’s] time spent on golf, Twitter and cable news, what’s left?” she writes.
Highs and lows
While much of the book is spent exploring why she lost, Clinton also discusses some of the high points of her campaign, like the speech she gave in Brooklyn after she amassed enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination and become the first woman from a major political party in American history to top the presidential ticket.
She recalls an interview with ABC’s David Muir just before giving the speech.
“I thought back to that painful day in 2008 when I stood in front of a much more somber crowd in the National Building Museum in Washington and thanked my supporters for putting 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling,” Clinton writes. “Now here I was, closer than ever to shattering that ceiling once and for all.”
No disappearing act
Though Clinton has stated she will never again be a candidate for public office, in her book she clearly signals her intent to remain in the public eye.
“There were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,” she writes. “But here I am.”
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