A curious dualism emerges in New York Times reporter Amy Chozick’s book Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling. As I noted yesterday, Chozick makes it clear that she was rooting for Clinton. But she also thinks Clinton hates her.
Chozick shouldn’t take things so personally: Clinton hates everyone. You can’t relate to people you despise. Her inability to master the basics of being a politician inspired one of the great underreported witticisms of the 2016 campaign, when Donald Trump was asked about his comparatively loose debate preparations. “I don’t need to rehearse being human,” he said.
As a college sophomore, Clinton once described herself as a “misanthrope.” Her inability to hide that made her an amazingly poor candidate, one who would have had difficulty capturing a seat on any city council on her own. Dealing with the populace standing between her and power was never anything but a chore.
Chozick and the other reporters covering Clinton in 2015–16 were pulling for her. You could hear it in the questions they asked. Chozick makes it obvious in her new book. Yet Clinton was convinced this gaggle of liberal women was somehow out to take her down, and she barricaded herself off from them. She was a glum loner, not a happy warrior.
After the election defeat, Chozick met with a Democratic-party stalwart who was a major Clinton supporter in an apartment with a panoramic view of Manhattan and walls covered with Monets. (Chozick doesn’t identify this person.) “Look around,” the big shot told the reporter. “I’m not a loser. Hillary is a L-O-S-E-R.” Then the person made an L sign with one hand.
Chozick got little access to Clinton during either the 2016 campaign or the 2008 one (which Chozick covered for the Wall Street Journal). At one point she says the only real interaction she had with Clinton was when the latter barged in on her in an airplane lavatory. When Donald Trump calls her in the fall of 2016, she tells him that Clinton has never called her in the nine years Chozick has been covering her.
That inability to schmooze was a noxious gas, the flammable hydrogen that doomed Clinton’s two Hindenburg-like presidential campaigns. Bill Clinton once told Chozick that Hillary had told him back at Yale Law School, “Nobody will ever vote for me for anything.” Her husband tried mightily to help, but charm can’t be lent.
Glimpses of Clinton caught on the fly confirm that Clinton despised campaigning. In Iowa in 2015, as the press is hurling fangirl queries at her (“Secretary! Can you believe you’re back in Iowa!”), Hilary pretends to flip a steak, unable to hide her revulsion. “The image screamed all at once, how long do I have to act like I enjoy this [sh**] and Why the [f***] am I back in this state?” writes Chozick. When Chozick shared Clinton’s amazingly light August schedule with an editor at the Times, the latter responded, “Does she even want to be president?” Clinton spent much of that month holed up with her rich friends in the Hamptons.
Clinton “suffered from a chronic inability to crack a simple joke,” Chozick writes. Even at special off-the-record drinks events specifically designed by her staff to allow Clinton to let her guard down and banter with reporters the way Barack Obama did, Clinton excoriates the journos for having big egos and little brains. On one such fence-mending effort in New Hampshire, Chozick writes, “She exuded a particularly icy aloofness and a how-long-do-I-have-to-talk-to-you-a**holes demeanor that made me feel as if I’d never been born.” Reporters felt so abused by the Big She during the 2008 campaign that when Clinton made an 88-second visit to the press bus proffering bagels and coffee, there were no takers. This is a bit like throwing raw filet mignon into a tank full of piranhas and watching it descend slowly to the bottom untouched.
You might expect Clinton to at least be sensitive to sexism. Instead she was a source of it. “She told aides she knew women reporters would be harder on her. We’d be jealous and catty and more spiteful than men. We’d be impervious to her flirting.” (Side note: Chozick actually thinks flirting with Hillary Clinton is something men want to do.) A running joke had it that the unofficial motto of Clinton supporters was, “I’m With Her . . . I Guess.” This, even though Chozick and other female reporters were sympathetic to Hillary based on gender solidarity: “I still felt some kind of feminine bond with Hillary then,” she writes of her early months on the beat, and later describes her coverage as “neutral to positive, with plenty of wet kisses thrown in.”
Clinton’s poor political instincts infected the entire campaign. One aide ripped a sign saying “I [heart] Hillary” out of a little girl’s hands in Phoenix because “Brooklyn [the site of Clinton’s headquarters] thought it best that Everydays hold professionally produced signs that displayed the message du jour rather than something made with love and some finger paint.”
Bill Clinton knew a lot of people thought Trump saw them. Hillary couldn’t stand even glancing in their direction.
As for larger strategic moves, Chozick notes dryly of a March excursion, “That was Hillary’s last trip to Wisconsin.” Team Clinton in its waning days was spending money in Utah, Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, and even Texas while the Upper Midwest was begging for more resources. Bill Clinton was meanwhile going “red in the face” warning his wife’s team “that Trump had a shrewd understanding . . . of the white working class,” Chozick says. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, responded by spoofing Bill behind his back, as one would Grandpa Simpson: “And let me tell you another thing about the white working class,” he’d say, mockingly.
Clinton mangles the easiest bits of politicking: After voting in Chappaqua in the New York primary, reporters toss the usual softballs (“Secretary! How are you feeling about tonight?”) and she snaps, “Guys, it’s a private ballot” and “Can we get the press out of here, please?” Later, Chozick adds, “Hillary was still following the Mitt Romney Playbook, not realizing that she was the Romney in the race.” On the stump, Clinton wouldn’t stop talking about how much she loved Hamilton, as though the median voter were a New Yorker who could afford to spend a couple of thousand bucks on an evening’s entertainment.
Bill Clinton’s instincts turned out to be absolutely correct, and he had a typically folksy and endearing way of explaining what was happening in America in 2016. He’d tell people that there’s a Zulu greeting that goes, “I see you,” to which the response is, “I am here.” Clinton knew a lot of people thought Trump saw them. Hillary couldn’t stand even glancing in their direction.