As Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, a shadow will loom over his inauguration. Is it his multitudinous conflicts of interest and almost certain violation of the Emoluments Clause? Well, yes, but there’s another shadow: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton may not have been the right person to beat Trump in November, but since then, she’s been the perfect person to lose to him. Despite her own efforts to bow out discreetly — to the margins of the Democratic Party, to out-of-the-way bookstores, to the woods — he can’t get her out of his head. Even now, he seems incapable of moving on from an election that he won.
Who can blame him? Clinton won the popular vote decisively, by almost 2.9 million votes, or 2.1 percentage points. Trump is the third-worst-performing winner in presidential history. He edged out only Rutherford B. Hayes, who won in the electoral college and lost the popular vote, and John Quincy Adams, who won in the House of Representatives after losing both. Sad!
And he’s invoked Clinton in tweet after deranged tweet since the election, asserting that actually, he meant to lose the popular vote, and no, really, he did, and by the way, he won the popular vote anyway, because of “millions of people who voted illegally.” (That latter claim was, of course, accompanied by no evidence, because it was patently false.)
But he still couldn’t resist taking potshots at Clinton’s campaign spending, or claiming that she should not have been “allowed” to run (not how it works) and that she was “guilty as hell” (also not how it works).
At his only news conference as president-elect, Trump invoked Clinton by name five times, unprompted, while addressing questions about U.S. allegations that Russian operatives sought to assist him by hacking Democratic email accounts and spreading “fake news.” He scoffed at the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin would have wanted to help him win: “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me?”
When reports emerged this month that Russia had allegedly attempted to gather compromising information on Trump and that U.S. intelligence was investigating the matter, he got all the more defensive, insisting on Twitter that Clinton lost not because of Russian influence, but because she “campaigned in the wrong states” and with “no enthusiasm” (returning to another favorite campaign theme).
President Obama did not taunt Sen. John McCain or besmirch Mitt Romney. George W. Bush left Al Gore to grow his beard in peace. Even Richard M. Nixon left Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern off his enemies list. But Trump just can’t quit Clinton. She’s always there, even when he’s lashing out at other targets. CNN is bad not just for their coverage, but because they “failed so badly in their support of Hillary Clinton.” Meryl Streep is not just overrated, but a “Hillary flunky who lost big,” which is why she criticized him at the Golden Globes. New “Celebrity Apprentice” host Arnold Schwarzenegger not only can’t compete with Trump in ratings, but “who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.” Trump even reminisced on his “thank you” tour about the good times he and his supporters had chanting about locking Clinton up, saying, “We did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?”
Yes, he did have fun fighting Hillary. (And he sure seemed to enjoy beating her!) But to paraphrase someone who paraphrased former New York governor Mario Cuomo, “you campaign in poetry” and “govern in prose” (or, er, tweets). And even for a storyteller as astute as Trump, the plodding details of a presidential transition were no match for a woman whose popularity surges every time she’s not running for something.
As the inauguration neared, Clinton even began to loom over Trump outside his own mind.
His transition has been full of all the corrupt, swampy things he faulted her for — charity self-dealing, Goldman Sachs cronyism, avoiding news conferences. He even appeared to ignore email malfeasance when he met with David Petraeus, who was reportedly under consideration for Clinton’s old job, secretary of state.
Meanwhile, the crowds at Trump’s swearing-in and parade will probably be dwarfed by the resistance-flavored Women’s March on Washington the next day, with protesters flooding to the District on six times more buses than requested permits for Trump’s modest party. The guiding principles of the march begin, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights,” in an echo of a certain someone’s famous Beijing declaration. (A hint to a certain thin-skinned real estate developer and purveyor of Chinese-made merchandise: It was Hillary Clinton.)
Now Trump is entering office as unpopular as any incoming president has ever been and with more questions about how exactly he got there. Worse, as he steps up to take the oath, Clinton will be right there with him at the Capitol, hewing to duty as a former first lady, impossible to miss, as TV news cameras linger on her composed, inscrutable face for signs that she’s inwardly retching. And then, once he’s president, there she’ll be in the White House, smiling down from her portrait confidently in her pantsuit.
No wonder he’d rather hole up at Trump Tower.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that John Quincy Adams had won in the electoral college after losing the popular vote. In fact, no candidate won an electoral college majority in the 1824 election, which was decided by the House of Representatives.