It was the most painful moment in Hillary Clinton’s political life.
After the most shocking presidential campaign upset in the history of the United States, Clinton took the stage at the New Yorker Hotel and conceded the unthinkable: Donald Trump—a man who has called for her to be imprisoned, who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women, and who has built a campaign on an ethno-nationalist bigoted stance—would be the duly elected president.
“Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” Clinton said, resiliently. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”
She was joined onstage by her husband Bill Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, who graciously thanked her for the opportunity to be on the ticket before Clinton spoke. In a moment of attempted hopefulness, Kaine referenced the author William Faulkner and said “They killed us but they ain't whooped us yet.”
While Clinton later tried to project an image of dignified composure, the speech felt like a wake; not only for her but maybe for the entire Democratic Party establishment as well.
Clinton acknowledged, just hours after leaving fans crying underneath an un-shattered glass ceiling at the Javits Center in New York, that this loss is devastating.
“This is painful and it will be for a long time,” Clinton said, adding she tried to remain optimistic as the reality of the situation took hold.
“This loss hurts but never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
The Clinton campaign was not ready for this loss. At about 1:45 a.m. or so, the TV monitors hanging over the crowd stopped playing the news. (A few minutes later the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Trump.) It was understandable; all the news was bad. So instead, the monitors showed live shots of the attendees who had decided to stick it out for Hillary, airing jumbotron-style close-ups of the happiest Clinton supporters while blasting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”
It was late, so many attendees’ phones were dead, and many others had terrible service. Turning off the news meant they didn’t know that Clinton had definitely lost, and that that highest, hardest glass ceiling would live to gleam another day. It also meant attendees who waited for hours in hopes of cheering Clinton wouldn’t learn until the last minute that she would not be making an appearance at Javits. The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether or not this was intentional. But intentional or not, her most loyal backers lived for a few moments in a fragile, transient alternate reality, where Hillary Clinton still had a shot at being president and they still had a shot at seeing her.
That alternate reality didn’t last. When a disembodied male voice announced over the loudspeakers that campaign chairman John Podesta would address the crowd, a young woman in the crowd looked at me flatly.
“Motherfucker,” she said.
But for most of the attendees who spoke to The Daily Beast, grief crowded out any anger. A few refrains were common: The Russians stole the election, this country was more sexist than they realized, their hearts ached for Hillary.
Eric Zaccar, a screenwriter from New York, said Obama should refuse to step down from the presidency. I asked him if he was serious, and he said he was.
“I think Obama should declare absolute rule the same way Trump is going to,” he said. “I’m not kidding. It’s either Obama or it’s Trump and either way it’s the last president.”
Pat Caesar, a stand-up comedian, blamed the media for Clinton’s loss.
“I think that Chuck Todd, I think that Joe Scarborough, I think that Chris Matthews––every one of them crucified Hillary,” she said. “I honestly believe that. And they made Trump, because they only cared about the ratings.”
Caesar may take heart in the fact that the Clinton campaign treated the media quite poorly the next morning. The campaign sent out a media blast announcing that Clinton would finally make public remarks at 10:30 a.m. at a midtown hotel. Doors at 9:30, the advisory promised, and remarks an hour later.
Instead, hundreds of reporters stood outside in chilly weather for hours waiting for Clinton’s arrival and remarks. Bedraggled campaign staffers––some of whom wore commemorative Election Night fleeces––filed into the hotel over the course of about two hours. And finally, at about 11:15 a.m., Clinton herself arrived.
Shortly afterwards, a NYPD officer broke the news to reporters: They wouldn’t be able to get into the hotel, so they might as well just go do something else. A line of Clinton supporters on the other side of the building got similar treatment––long waits, no dice.
But the people who waited in line for Clinton seemed far more grieved than angry. Matt Osterhaus, who stood in line, said he just wanted to be in solidarity with other disappointed Clinton supporters.
“I feel like it’s important to be here with people and support them in this,” he said.
And Pam Hoberman said even though she wouldn’t be able to hear Clinton’s speech, she hoped to just see her for a moment.
“We heard that it’s filled to capacity, which I’m glad to hear,” she said. “Even to get a glimpse of her––she’s someone who inspires me, she maybe didn’t crack the ceiling this time, but she’s still paving the way.”