[1/23/17] In a series of private meetings and phone calls at their home in Chappaqua, in New York City and in Washington, Bill and Hillary Clinton are slowly starting to puzzle through their political future, according to over a dozen people who have spoken directly with them, and nearly two dozen other Democrats who have been briefed on their thinking.
The recently vanquished candidate has told some associates she’s looking at a spring timeline for mapping out some of her next political steps. Still recovering from her stunning loss, a political return is far from the top of Clinton’s mind, with much of her planning focused around the kinds of projects she wants to take on outside the partisan arena, like writing or pushing specific policy initiatives.
Just as the Democratic Party feels its way through a landscape without either Clinton looming over its future for the first time in nearly a quarter century, Clinton herself is working through the uncertainty surrounding how to best return to the fold.
There have been no conversations about starting her own political group but Clinton has spoken with leaders of emerging Democratic-leaning organizations about their work, and has discussed possible opportunities to work with Organizing For Action, former President Barack Obama’s initiative. Among the potential political priorities she has mentioned to associates are building pipelines for young party leaders to rise and ensuring that a reconstructed Democratic National Committee functions as an effective hub that works seamlessly with other party campaign wings.
The one-time secretary of state has been in contact with a range of ex-aides, studying presentations as she tries to better understand the forces behind her shocking November defeat.
Included among those presentations has been a series of reports pulled together by her former campaign manager Robby Mook and members of his team, who have updated her not just on data and polling errors, but also on results among segments of the electorate where she underperformed, according to Democrats familiar with the project.
“She understands that a forensic exam of the campaign is necessary, not only for her, but for the party and other electeds, and for the investors in the campaign,” said a close Hillary Clinton friend in Washington who, like several others, declined to speak on the record because their conversations with one or both Clintons were private. “People want to know that their investment was treated with respect, but that their mistakes wouldn’t be repeated.”
For his part, Bill Clinton has spent considerable time poring over precinct-level results from the 2016 race while meeting with and calling longtime friends to rail against FBI Director James Comey’s late campaign intervention and Russia’s involvement, say a handful of Democrats who have spoken with him.
“Many Democratic politicians have been personally influenced or share direct ties to President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, or both. That history goes back decades,” said Mack McLarty, Bill Clinton’s first White House chief of staff and a lifelong friend, predicting their eventual return to the scene. “And, despite the grave disappointment, resilience is in the Clintons’ DNA. So, while I certainly don’t expect to see them trying to assert their authority, I think there will be natural and welcome opportunities for them to engage.”
Wary of the complex political moment as Donald Trump assumes the presidency and supporters of Bernie Sanders assert themselves more forcefully within the Democratic Party, however, the Clintons have been letting the political discussionscome to them, rarely bringing it up unprompted in their conversations, and for the moment focusing more on other projects.
Bill Clinton, for example, has dived back into his work with the Clinton Foundation, while Hillary Clinton — spotted recently resuming her social life on Broadway and at trendy dinners in New York and Washington — is considering doing some writing.
For weeks leading up to Trump’s swearing in, the constant refrain among friends and former aides who are struggling with the question of their next political step has been, “Let’s get through the inauguration first.” The Clintons have been careful not to step into the party-shaping territory now occupied by Obama as the most recent Democratic president. And that posture is unlikely to change until at least late February, as the couple studiously stays away from a race for the DNC chairmanship that is widely seen as a Clinton-Sanders proxy fight.
Still, party leaders and friends alike expect them to jump back into the political fundraising and campaigning circuit in some form by the 2018 midterms — and perhaps in time for 2017’s two gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. A number of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent 2016 supporters are likely to need the help soon, including Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando attorney John Morgan — both likely gubernatorial candidates in 2018 — as well as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, and New Jersey governor hopeful Phil Murphy.