Generational Split

Hillary Clinton Supporters Are Divided Over Her Potential 2016 Run

After 2008’s bruising disappointment, should Clinton jump into the next election cycle’s fray or get some space to make a measured decision? How her boosters are split along age lines.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

It takes until page 595 of Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, Hard Choices, for her to get to the big reveal about whether she is running for president in 2016: “I haven’t decided yet.”

And in that line lies a divide, one that falls along largely generational lines, between those Hillary supporters who want to give her the space to make a monumental decision and those who want her to jump into the 2016 fray, the sooner the better.

Both sides consider themselves Clinton’s most hard-core supporters. They are the ones who line up in the early-morning hours outside a downtown Manhattan bookstore to get her autograph, or who fork over the $20.16 to attend a “Ready for Hillary” fundraiser.

But some say that Hillary needs to run, has to run—to break the glass ceiling, to ensure that a Democrat remains in the White House, to fulfill the destiny that was derailed in 2008.

For others, equally fervent in their Hillary fandom, that answer—“I haven’t decided yet”—more than suffices. If Clinton wants to take her sweet time deciding to run for president, and even if she decides not to run at all, it is her decision and her decision alone, and everyone should just quiet down about it.

It is a debate that rages on blogs, on Facebook and Twitter, at any place where more than two Hillraisers are gathered. And in speaking with dozens of hard-core Hillary fans as her potential (but only potential!) presidential campaign ramps up, it is hard not to notice a generational divide at play. By and large, younger voters, especially younger female voters, belong to the “Hillary-Has-to-Run” camp, while older women voters in Clinton’s age cohort want to give her the space to make a decision.

“If she runs, I will dedicate my life to getting her elected. But she doesn’t owe it to us,” said Christine, 71, as she leaned on a cane while waiting in line at the Hard Choices book signing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan on Tuesday. She declined to give her last name, but said she graduated from law school the same year Clinton did. Nearby, youngsters in “Ready for Hillary” T-shirts, seemingly half a century younger, enthusiastically signed up volunteers for the super PAC’s list.

She pointed to Clinton’s response to a sharp question from Diane Sawyer the night before: “When are you going to decide?”

“You know, I am going to decide when it feels right for me to decide,” Clinton said, adding that she liked her life now: traveling, relaxing, preparing to be a grandmother. “I have to make a decision that is right for me and my country.”

In speaking with women close in age to Clinton, it is easy to get a sense of protectiveness of her. These women, after all, have grown up with her, watched her endure slights in the public eye that they had weathered in private, and so can understand if the secretary of state wants to slow down for a while.

“We experienced the sexual harassment, the misogyny, the discrimination. A lot of younger women didn’t. They just heard about it from us,” said Christine. Many younger women, meanwhile, didn’t even have to go through the abuses of 2008, she added. “You saw a lot of sexism, a lot of misogyny [then]. It would take a lot of stamina to go through all of that again.”

A few feet away, Rebecca Kabat, 32, bounded out of the front doors of the store clutching a newly autographed Clinton memoir and wearing a T-shirt that said, “@Hillary Clinton…TBD,” a reference to Clinton’s Twitter bio, where she makes a winking aside to her future plans.

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“I just think it would be great to have a woman president, and I think she would make a great president,” said Kabat. “I would clear my schedule. I would volunteer. I would do whatever they asked.”

As for Clinton’s ambivalence, Kabat was having none of it.

“I know what she says, but I privately I think she is planning to run.”

Pollsters and political professionals say the young/old divide among Hillary devotees is not surprising. When Clinton mentions wanting to spend time with her new grandchild, they can relate. And after witnessing decades of discrimination, they doubt that the country is as ready for a woman president as polls say it is.

“I think they are being protective. They don’t want to lose with someone they like so much,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “Older women think the press hasn’t treated her fairly. For younger women, the press is social media. They say, ‘I will like her on Facebook, what’s the problem?’ For older women it’s more like, ‘I know that Fox News is going to eat away at her.’”

One woman, who blogs under the nom de Internet “Still4Hill” and asked that her real name not be used for professional reasons but who describes herself as of “Hillary’s generation,” said that after Clinton had a health scare during Obama’s first term, the vitriol got so nasty that she had to block some friends on Facebook.

“I wrote, ‘Oh, poor thing,’ and people wrote back, ‘She doesn’t need our sympathy, she is a woman of steel.’ I was accused of being a Republican,” she said in a phone interview. “All I could think was, ‘Have you ever fallen?’ They see Hillary as an icon, not as a flesh and blood person.”

And she added that young people, many of whom are in college or graduate school, may not have a sense of how much it takes to make one’s way in the world.

“She has been in public service for 45 years,” she said. “I don’t think it is fair to lay a guilt trip on her. No matter what she decides, I will support her. If she decides that she wants to continue doing what she does now, I will support that, even if some people find it hard to accept.”

A two-year-long campaign will be difficult; an eight-year stint in the Oval Office almost unimaginably so. Do those pushing Clinton to jump into the race and shouting her name at rallies realize the mud that will be flung in her direction?

“There are a lot of people who want to wave a magic wand and make all that stuff go away,” said “Still4Hill.” “Well, I am sure Hillary understands better than anyone that there is no magic wand.”

In some cases, when one hears older women voice their concerns about a possible Clinton candidacy, it is clear they are speaking from experience about the level of exhaustion a campaign involves. These voters, after all, didn’t just vote for Clinton eight years ago; they dropped everything and put their lives on hold to get her into the White House.

“I am trying to stay mellow about it this time, because I was into it 24-7 for a year and a half the last time,” said Jan Mundy, a New York-based massage therapist. “We really put a lot into it. We started a movement.”

Mundy, who is 66, the same age as Clinton, said she would be disappointed if Clinton didn’t run. But, she pointed out, she was disappointed last time, too, when Clinton ran and lost.

“I am not pushing Hillary to run or holding all hope,” Mundy said. “She and I are the same age. And I am just so amazed at what she does and what she accomplishes as a person of my generation. Just to get up every morning and put on the suit and fly all over the world, I mean, it is amazing. So whatever she decides is fine with me. Whatever Hillary wants to do, I am on board.”

And if all the enthusiasm is now with the younger folks, all the better. The Hillary movement, Mundy said, is like a party: “The younger people are all on the dance floor, whooping it up. Older people are off to the side, waiting in the wings for our song to come on.”