A quote caught my eye (and others' eyes) over the weekend. It was from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and it was about how Democrats move forward with a new slogan — “A Better Deal” — and new policies.
“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe and David Weigel. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”
I certainly read that as a not-so-veiled shot at Hillary Clinton, who has spent plenty of time blaming things not named Hillary Clinton since November 2016 for her election defeat. Fox News went so far as to say: “Schumer tells Clinton 'blame yourself.'" And, notably, it comes from none other than Clinton's former New York colleague in the Senate.
Others disagreed, believing it was a more general statement about the party. Some even pointed to Schumer's use of the “we” personal pronoun in the second part of the quote — suggesting that he was talking about the party as a whole and not Clinton specifically.
Here's what I think we can say for sure: Regardless of whether this quote was aimed at Clinton, she's definitely on the receiving end. It's undeniably a rebuke of her choice of public statements since the 2016 election, and it shows how some Democrats believe Clinton's decision to continue re-litigating things — something she apparently plans to do at length in a forthcoming book — is going to make it tougher for her party to move forward.
Clinton has offered a number of reasons for her loss, including Russia's hacking, James B. Comey's late disclosure of newly discovered Clinton emails, misogyny and debate questions. Clinton has said she takes “absolute personal responsibility for her loss,” but her repeated claims that she was the target of unfair and nefarious attacks suggest otherwise.
Anytime you write about Clinton making these excuses, her defenders are quick to pounce. It's possible that Russia did, in fact, tip the scales, they argue! FiveThirtyEight has done an analysis that suggests Comey probably did lose the election for her! And you can certainly make a credible case for either; we'll simply never be able to know for sure, because it would require psychoanalyzing millions of people in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin about something that happened months ago.
The point is that it's kind of neither here nor there at this juncture — especially when it comes to Democrats' efforts to climb out of their historically deep hole in Congress and in the states. And Schumer's comments show exactly how fruitful an exercise he believes all of that is in the meantime.
Irrespective of whether he was sending a message to Clinton and her defenders, they should consider it a commentary on her and their unwillingness to let go of the 2016 election and the many ways in which they feel they were wronged. Regardless of those feelings, Schumer seems to be arguing that the fact the Democrats were even in a position to lose to the most unpopular president-elect in modern history is an indictment of them. He doesn't want the party to continue trying to rely on how unpopular Trump is moving forward, and looking backward makes it more difficult to do that.
That's a message that can't help but be about his former colleague from New York.