If viewers tuning in to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s big interview with Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night were hoping for a change in tone from the bitter 2016 runner-up, they were surely disappointed.
Instead, they got a practiced rehash of scores of interviews and public appearances Clinton has made since her November loss to Donald Trump in the presidential election. It didn’t help that many of Cooper’s questions were not exactly probing.
Sample: “It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of yoga?”
Anyone who has paid even casual attention to Clinton’s tour promoting her book, “What Happened,” by now is familiar with her long list of reasons for the defeat — other than her own mistakes and liabilities.
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No villain looms larger, however, than former FBI Director James Comey. Clinton said she would have won if not for his 11th-hour reopening of the investigation into her handling of classified information as secretary of state.
“Yes, that was the determinative day because it stopped my momentum. I don’t blame voters for wondering what the heck was going on,” she told Cooper. “You have the FBI director saying what he said. And it was a, you know, terrible time to try to break through the last days of a campaign when you had this hanging over my head. And it wasn’t really lifted until the Sunday before the election.”
Perhaps that is why The New York Times book review on Monday summed up Clinton’s campaign memoir like this: “It is a score-settling jubilee. It is a rant against James B. Comey, Bernie Sanders, the media, James B. Comey, Vladimir Putin, and James B. Comey. It is a primer on Russian spying. It is a thumping of Trump.”
Clinton even considered that Comey’s handling of the FBI’s investigation of her use of a private email server might have been personal.
“He’s never been clear his motivation, and what bothered me the most, as the time went on after the election and we learned more about the open FBI investigation into the Trump campaign and their connections with Russia, that had been going on for quite some time,” she said. “The American people didn’t know about it.”
For his part, Trump took to Twitter Wednesday night to ridicule Clinton: “Crooked Hillary Clinton blames everybody (and every thing) for her election loss. She lost the debates and lost her direction!”
Much of Clinton’s interview with Cooper was a tangle of contradictions. At one turn, she was a strong, independent woman battling sexism. At another, she was complaining about Trump using his size to intimidate her.
Clinton characterized Russian election meddling as a bigger scandal than Watergate and called for abolishing the Electoral College. She made sure to trumpet her popular vote win and downplayed the significance of Trump’s win in the Electoral College, telling Cooper that her opponent “squeaked through.”
Clinton patted herself on the back for having the courage to endure Trump’s inauguration. She said she “really debated whether I could do it or not.” Then she all but called Trump’s speech that day racist.
“I write in the book about how really strange it was to sit there and to listen to the kind of speech that was so divisive,” she said. “The rhetoric was hot. I call it a cry from the white nationalist gut.”
Clinton tried to cast her book as a warning to other candidates — especially women — who dare run in the future.
“Part of why I wrote this was to not only come to grips with what happened but to send up some, you know, alarm signals,” she said.
Whoever runs, Clinton said, surely will face Russian interference, possible “coordination between opposition campaigns and Russians,” voter suppression and “endemic sexism and misogyny.”
When Cooper gently suggested that Barack Obama’s two election victories might mean that there is no impenetrable white, male Establishment in national politics, Clinton bristled.
“But there’s a big difference between what motivates voters on race and what doesn’t motivate voters on gender,” she said.
But Clinton offered no evidence to back her theory other than her own loss to an opponent for whom she clearly has utter contempt.
For a woman who has been at the center of the rough and tumble of national politics for a quarter-century now, Clinton expressed shocking naïvety. She recounted meeting then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — who she thought was incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — and being bewildered that someone who pursued her so aggressively as a congressman could be so nice in person.
The same goes for Ryan Zinke, then a representative from Montana, who once called her the Antichrist and now serves as interior secretary. He and his wife were nice to her in person, too, she said.
“It’s a real loss,” she said, reflecting on the toxicity of politics. “It’s a loss. I mean, this hyper-partisanship and this negativity that I think has been really inflamed by the internet, I’ve given a lot of thought to it over the last months.”
This, from a woman who once famously bemoaned a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and during the presidential campaign went after the “basket of deplorables” who made up an important part of Trump’s base.