Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election for a number of reasons – including the fact that she’s a woman, but also because her campaign staff didn’t let her act like one.
That was one of the observations made by Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communications director, during an interview with Talk Business & Politics on Thursday.
Palmieri spoke at the Clinton Presidential Center on Thursday. She recently published the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, “Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World.”
During the interview, Palmieri said she had an “epiphany that what we had done was made her a female facsimile of the qualities that we look for in a male president. Right? You had all these things she had to prove she could do, and I thought that’s probably why … so many people said, ‘Well, she’s so inauthentic. I don’t know who she really is.’ It’s like you’re trying to put her in a suit that doesn’t suit her.”
However, Palmieri said she did not know what allowing Clinton to run as a woman would have looked like. During all of Clinton’s years in public service, Americans have not had anyone with whom to compare her, and she confounds some people, Palmieri said.
Palmieri said Clinton didn’t lose simply because she’s a female, but the campaign did expose the obstacles female leaders face. Americans have a model for leadership that’s based on men. The process of running for president requires candidates to tell Americans they are the best person for that all-important job, which can be unappealing when a female does it.
Palmieri recalled the second presidential debate when President Trump seemed to be lurking behind Clinton. Clinton later said she should have turned and told him to back off. However, Palmieri believes the coverage would have been, “Clinton rattled. Clinton unnerved.”
Having more women in leadership will change the way politics and business operate because women tend to be more cooperative and consensus-building rather than competitive, she said.
Clinton led in the polls throughout much of the campaign, but in September, Palmieri wondered if Trump was destined to win. He had defeated a large and qualified Republican field and had become more disciplined in his messaging. Clinton had a terrible August; she’d been sick, and she made her “basket of deplorables” comment about Trump’s supporters.
“It’s like you’re going to look back on this year and think the only possible outcome is Trump wins,” Palmieri said. “Of course Trump won. Of course Trump won that election. It was fated from the moment he got on the ridiculous escalator [when he announced his candidacy].”
As Clinton performed better in the debates, Palmieri believed she would win the election. But on Election Night, campaign manager Robby Mook told her their polls were 2 to 5 points off in almost every state. Palmieri realized a lot of states they needed to win were that close.
“And then you think, ‘OK, well, maybe we’re going to have a bad night, and we’ll figure it out tomorrow,” she said. “And then you remember that there is no tomorrow.”
Palmieri said she wondered at the time why so many in the campaign accepted the defeat. She suspected the Russians had somehow hacked the election machinery to change the outcome. She advocated an investigation but didn’t find support elsewhere.
She still wonders if the Russians sabotaged the election.
“I am not a technological expert by any means, so there’re all these people who tell me it’s not possible,” she said. “But I also know that a lot of people told me things weren’t possible that has ended up to be revealed the Russians did in fact do, so … I think it’s possible.”