“I’m not going anywhere,” Hillary Clinton said recently. Some saw it as a threat. But high-fives and toasts could be heard from the Republican Party across the country, while Democratic politicians could almost be felt quaking.
Hillary Clinton, failed presidential nominee, road kill, recruiting poster for the GOP, is not going to leave public life. “I have the experience, I have the insight, I have the scars that I think give me not only the right, but the responsibility to speak out,” she self-confessed to NPR during her promotion of her new book, “What Happened.”
To Democrats, it sounds like a threat. For Republicans, it’s a love letter.
It’s almost an unprecedented move, at least in modern history. But we can’t expect anything less from Hillary Clinton, with the number of glass ceilings she wanted to shatter. It fits perfectly into her personality.
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Her recent book tour — which has agitated Democrats and amused Republicans — has been failure after failure. On the very first day of it she revealed she is entitled and cocky. What should have been a very serious Launch Day turned into much frustration as Clinton appeared an hour late to the book signing, forcing thousands of the little people to wait at the crowded Barnes & Noble in Union Square, in New York City. When Lady Hillary finally did arrive, she did not apologize or even speak to the fawning crowd, but just sat down and started to sign her books. Her Royal Highness doth honor the mere peasants with Her presence. But they had to avert their eyes.
Much digital ink has been spilt about the actual book, its contents, and its tone. Many sites have pointed out the glaring factual errors, the condescending and sanctimonious tone, the bitter victimhood, and the — surprise, surprise — utter lack of accepting blame for her loss.
Perhaps, in a rare instance, she is right here. What other losing presidential candidate has placed himself in the public eye so much, with so much blame and vigor that even other politicians in her own party roll their eyes? Truth is, not many, if any.
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If we list losing presidential candidates, we get a smattering of names we recognize — John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton — but we also get a list of names that are nearly fading from immediate memory: Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson, Wendell Willkie, or Al Smith. Some names may be more recognizable and have a more solid legacy than others, but all have been overshadowed by the winner on Election Day. Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower (twice), Willkie lost to Franklin Roosevelt, McCain and Romney lost to Barack Obama, and Smith lost to Herbert Hoover.
Those who did stay relevant were themselves former presidents. Jimmy Carter, who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, went on to fund charities and do humanitarian work, sometimes personally building houses for Habitat for Humanity. For all his faults, the long post-presidency of Carter has been nothing but dignified.
But what of failed candidates who weren’t presidents? Mitt Romney all but disappeared, though recent rumors suggest he may run for Senate. John McCain is only making the news because he is currently a senator and a bitter critic of Donald Trump. Former Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who once ran for the Democratic Party against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, became a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, as well as visiting professor at both Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has stayed out of the public eye, relatively. He once spoke of Bill Clinton’s run for president to Charlie Rose in 1992, offering advice and predictions for the upcoming election, but that was pretty much it.
The closest historical figure that matches Clinton’s level of arrogance is former president Herbert Hoover. Losing against Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Hoover continued to criticize the newly elected president. He may have lost the election, but he’d be damned if he’d lose the national debate. He criticized FDR severely, dismissing the New Deal in his 1934 work, “The Challenge of Liberty.” He was a strict isolationist (saying that if the United States entered the war in Europe, “then we have won for Stalin the grip of communism on Russia … War alongside Stalin to impose freedom is more than a travesty”), and opposed Lend-Lease.
To boot, Hoover ran for the presidential primary of the Republican Party twice more, in 1936 and 1940, failing to secure the necessary delegates. One Gallup Poll, in 1940, had his support at a pathetic 2 percent. It was clear he would stay a one-term president, yet he continued on. Sounds like someone else we know.
All that said, it can almost be forgiven that Hoover stayed in public discourse, as, one-term or not, he was indeed once president. That doesn’t necessarily give him a pass, but it gives him an excuse to criticize what may become of his legacy or the country he once served.
Yes, Hoover criticized the president after his loss. Yes, he wrote a book soon after the election about the current president. And his support dwindled away. Hillary Clinton, however, has never been president, may never be president — and though she may be following in the footsteps of Hoover, it’s fair to say she will never have, again, the amount of support from either within or out of her party.
Perhaps it’s time Clinton listens to her Democratic betters, and, as much as it’d pain her, just go away.
Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and author of four bestsellers on Ronald Reagan, most recently “Reagan Rising.” His latest political biography on Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt,” is now available on Amazon. Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s researcher.
(photo credit, homepage image: HillaryForIowa, Flickr)