I post this to make clear that we — reporters and people — all know less than we purport to, that authoritativeness is, at some level, an illusion. Journalism took a hit Tuesday — and rightly so. I am a believer that transparency — how we do what we do and why — is an antidote to the cynicism and anger directed at the media right now. Here's my attempt to walk that walk.
Hillary Clinton, eight years after she first sought the office, secured the presidency on Tuesday night — the first woman elected to the most powerful office in the country.
Clinton's path to the presidency — much like her last two-plus decades in public life — was not an easy one, defined more by her relentless drive forward than any sort of soaring movement like the one that propelled Barack Obama into office in 2008. And even in victory, Clinton survived rather than overwhelmed. Expected to cruise to an electoral vote victory, Clinton squeaked by — with Democrats fretting deep into the night about her prospects.
In short: It was a uniquely Clinton campaign — with all the good and bad that connotes.
Start in early 2015 when it became clear to anyone paying attention that Clinton was running for president. The prospect of her presence in the race froze things in place for all but the long-shot contenders — former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and a little-known Vermont senator named Bernie Sanders.
By the time Clinton formally entered the race in April 2015, she looked like an absolute juggernaut. Still popular from her time as secretary of state, Clinton appeared to have it all — money, activists, polling supremacy. I, and many others, called her the most heavy non-incumbent front-runner in the history of presidential politics — because that's exactly what she was.
Then the campaign began in earnest — and it became clear within a few months that the Clinton coronation had been premature. The revelation that Clinton had exclusively used a private email server during her time as the nation's top diplomat — which had gone public a month before she formally entered the race — went from an annoyance to a massive and ongoing headache.
And it wasn't just that Clinton was the first secretary of state to exclusively use a private email server that was the problem. It was how Clinton and her team handled it — badly, and in ways that reminded Democrats of all the baggage that came with the Clintons. Her initial reaction — and this lasted for months — was a sort of standoffishness with the media, insisting that a. she didn't know anything and b. what she did know was that she didn't do anything wrong.
Even as those doubts about Clinton's honesty and trustworthiness began to creep back, Sanders suddenly became the viable, and therefore problematic, challenge from her ideological left that her campaign had long hoped to avoid. Sanders, for some Democrats — especially younger, white voters — was the antidote to the status quo, look-before-leaping politics that Clinton represented. He was promising free college tuition and railing against the influence of Wall Street, while Clinton was preaching practical policy prescriptions with achievable solutions.
Clinton didn't really know how to deal with Sanders. Be too aggressive and run the risk of alienating and angering voters she knew she would need for the general election. Be too soft and let Sanders's support grow.
That question confounded Clinton all the way up until the first votes of 2016 in Iowa and New Hampshire. But almost as quickly as voters started voting, two things became clear: 1. Sanders had a durable coalition and 2. that durable coalition simply wasn't big enough to pose a real threat to Clinton's front-runner status. Clinton spent the rest of the primary campaign playing nice with Sanders (and his voters) while working hard behind the scenes to ensure he never made inroads among black and Hispanic voters who were solidly for her.
What that strategy led to was a protracted primary fight in which Sanders petered out as much as Clinton beat him. It was in many ways a classic Clinton move — and an omen of the general-election campaign to come: Yes, she had won, but she had done so in a manner that left many people cold.
Despite those setbacks, the narrative of the general election began in much the same place that the Democratic primary did: Clinton as the heavy favorite to beat Donald Trump, a first-time candidate who capitalized on a deeply divided Republican Party to march to the nomination and who was regarded as too undisciplined, too easily provoked, too, well, un-presidential to possibly win.
But again, Clinton found herself hamstrung by the email issue as the Justice Department's investigation into her private server — and whether Clinton or her top aides had intentionally violated rules regarding classified communications — dragged on. That cloud seemed to lift in July when FBI Director James B. Comey announced that while Clinton had exercised poor judgment in regards to her emails, she had not intentionally broken any rules and therefore would not be charged.
The FBI investigation seemingly behind her (and Clinton's resilience again proven), her discipline as a candidate and the rigor with which her staff approached the nuts and bolts — voter ID, organization building, etc. — of the campaign began to shine through.
Clinton was the far superior debater in each of the three debates. She was prepared and measured, keeping her cool as Trump tried to rattle her with attacks from all angles — personal, professional and just plain odd. In a word, she looked presidential, while he did not.
The debate seemed to set Clinton on cruise control as her campaign began to talk about expanding the map into Arizona, Georgia, Utah and, yes, even Texas. Senate Democrats — and even House Democrats — began to speak semi-openly about the possibility of winning back majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Then came Oct. 28 and a stunning letter from Comey that emails “pertinent” to the Clinton investigation had been discovered on a computer belonging to former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and his wife — longtime Clinton confidante Huma Abedin.
Within hours, the confident Clinton campaign had turned dark, watching the race thrown into chaos right on what looked like the verge of certain victory. Another hurdle — and this one potentially the largest yet — thrown in her way in the final moments of the contest. Concerns about Democratic enthusiasm were rampant and Trump seemed to be on the march again.
In the face of such a game-changer, Clinton did what she always did in the face of adversity: picked herself up and moved forward. She and the campaign slammed Comey for what they claimed was unprecedented meddling in a presidential election, effectively turning the conversation in the race to the FBI as opposed to her presidential campaign.
Simultaneously, Clinton's on-the-ground organization began to assert itself — rolling up record totals in key Democratic communities in Florida and Nevada, totals that gave her campaign a massive leg-up Tuesday.
The final act featured Comey, again — with another letter to Congress, this time on the Saturday before the election. But this time it was good news for Clinton — nothing in the new emails led the FBI to reconsider its public statements on the investigation back in July.
The last 48 hours were largely anti-climatic. Both national and swing state polling pointed to the Clinton victory that played out cross the country Tuesday. The Clinton campaign strategy — slow and steady, get knocked down but just keep getting up — was rewarded.
It's been 3,076 days since Clinton ended her first presidential bid, touting the 18 million cracks she had made in the last, highest, hardest glass ceiling. On Tuesday night, she smashed through it by being exactly who she has been throughout her public life: resilient, dogged and relentlessly prepared.