Was this book necessary? Hillary Clinton’s anguished, angry memoir of her presidential campaign, “What Happened,” was unveiled Tuesday, to be followed by television appearances and a 15-city lecture tour.
Other Democrats have been dreading this moment for months.
“I love Hillary,” Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota, said a few weeks ago. “I think she has a right to analyze what happened. But we do have to move on.”
A backward-looking slog through the disappointments of last year’s campaign is not what most Democratic politicians want to dominate the news this fall.
And that, judging from the many excerpts that have leaked, is exactly what Clinton’s book is: a long and dutiful post-mortem on how she lost to an unqualified blowhard who was even less popular than she was.
Clinton doesn’t spare herself from blame. She admits mistakes large and small. “It’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under our feet,” she writes. She acknowledges that she never came up with a theme as compelling as Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”
But she doesn’t spare anyone else from blame, either. Her list of the guilty begins with James Comey, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, all justifiably. Less justifiably, she also blames Bernie Sanders, and even — in smaller ways — Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Her decision to relitigate her bitter primary battles with Sanders has especially distressed other Democrats because it rolls a grenade into their not-yet-successful efforts to reunify the party.
The independent senator’s attacks on her big-dollar fundraising made it easier for Trump to paint her as “Crooked Hillary,” Clinton complains. “I don’t know if that bothered Bernie or not.”
Sanders — who, as luck would have it, is on a book tour of his own — fired back. “Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost, and she was upset about it and I understand that,” he said last week. “But our job is not to go backward. … I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016.”
This, of course, is a gift to Trump and his conservative allies. They’d like nothing better than to make Clinton the public face of the Democratic Party again — especially since her approval rating in the polls, at 30 percent, is even lower than the president’s. Fox News Channel is giving the book launch lavish coverage, including segments re-examining the controversy over her emails.
Clinton’s excuse: “I had to get this off my chest!” she writes at one point, an explanation that pretty much covers all 512 pages.
But most losing presidential candidates don’t write books about the experience. And the ones who do normally wait a decade or so before ripping the bandages off their wounds.
Mitt Romney didn’t do it after 2012. John McCain didn’t do it after 2008. (As he noted last week, “You’ve got to move on.”) To find a loser who did memorialize his defeat, you have to go back to Richard M. Nixon in 1960 — not a model you might have expected Clinton to emulate. There’s a reason for that. Airing grievances, even when they’re justified, rarely shows anyone’s most appealing side. For losing candidates, even in arguably stolen elections, the tradition has been stoic silence.