Young women who weren’t excited about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy are energized by her loss in ways they probably never could have imagined. They’re showing up at town halls, signing up for candidate training, and joining activist groups. And it’s not only millennial women waking up and fueling the resistance. Women across the spectrum—schoolteachers, nurses, IT workers—are turning up the political heat, and Clinton is taking notice.
“There’s a realization that when she speaks, she speaks for the majority of the country,” a former aide told The Daily Beast. “It’s a platform we’ve never had,” the aide enthused, until reminded about Al Gore’s popular vote margin in the 2000 election.
Gore garnered 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush in an election that turned on faulty ballots in Florida and was settled by the Supreme Court in Bush’s favor. Gore didn’t hang around to see if anyone wanted to hear from him. He grew a beard and gave up on national politics.
Clinton spent some time walking in the woods, but she’s not a dreamer and she’s not a wounded loner. She’s a practical woman determined to figure out how she can use the platform that she gained by winning almost 3 million votes more than Donald Trump in the November election.
“For activists and voters around the country, she’s a reminder the country wanted something different, something better. It’s a powerful juxtaposition,” says the former aide, who did not want to be identified getting too far out front of where the ever-cautious Clinton is in her thinking.
Clinton is charting this next chapter in her life like any other campaign. There will be a book in the fall that draws on her favorite quotes over a lifetime for a series of essays that she said in a statement are “the words I live by.” One chapter will be about why she lost and could be titled, “From Russia With Misogyny.”
Her calendar is filling up with speeches before audiences sure to greet her like a conquering hero. Next week, she’ll be at an LGBT Community Center in New York City. Next month, she’ll keynote a Planned Parenthood gala and the Children’s Health Fund annual benefit in New York City. On May 26, she’ll give the commencement speech at her alma mater, Wellesley College.
“For whatever other questions voters may have had about her, Americans generally viewed her as smart and right on the issues. And she has an important ability to focus people’s attention and shine a spotlight on the deficiencies in Donald Trump’s approach to things,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.
Clinton’s popular vote margin lends her credibility that she wouldn’t otherwise have, but losing candidates have to be careful when they weigh in that they don’t sound like sour grapes, Garin continued. He gave her high marks for speaking out earlier this month at a Women in the World event in New York City, when she assured the audience, “as a person, I’m OK” after her searing loss, but, “as an American, I’m pretty worried” about the occupant in the White House.
“She helps both raise alarm bells and put things in perspective for people,” he said.
A lot of the country loves her, but there are parts that hate her with such visceral emotion that there’s a danger she could over-interpret the positive reaction she gets from friendly audiences. “Her numbers haven’t really recovered yet,” said Garin. “It’s too soon, way too soon. It was a very polarized election.”
The growing protest movement that has gotten Clinton’s attention isn’t about her, and finding ways to be helpful is her challenge. Leaders will emerge organically, and Clinton’s role is more cheerleader than leader. Trump is the catalyst.
A first test of the resistance, and how well it can sustain the energy and enthusiasm that marked the Women’s March on the day after the Inauguration, comes on Saturday, when 69 progressive groups from the newly launched Indivisible to Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” and the venerable Common Cause are sponsoring 120 marches around the country calling on Congress to vote to release Trump’s tax returns.
Saturday is eight years to the day since angry protests over Obamacare launched the Tea Party in 2009. Ezra Levin, a co-founder of Indivisible, “A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda,” told The Daily Beast there are “at least two and an average of 13-to-14 Indivisible groups in every congressional district,” quite an achievement and a potential harbinger for change, since such a small percentage of the 435 House seats are even considered competitive.
The Indivisible guide borrows the strategy and tactics of the Tea Party, “minus their racism and violence,” said Levin. Republicans returning home to face their constituents are getting a taste of the public’s anger. For lawmakers who duck these encounters, protesters are encouraged to think creatively and prop up a life-size cutout of the missing congressperson. A live chicken recently stood in for Michigan Republican Dave Trott.
Getting voters to understand the power they have over Congress is the goal. Trumpcare didn’t get a vote because of the backlash from voters. Only 17 percent of those polled approved of the GOP plan. When Republicans proposed eliminating the Office of Ethics on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress, there was such furious pushback the GOP backed off immediately.
“I view release of Trump’s tax returns in the exact same way,” said Levin. “If people stand up and demand it, members of Congress will change their behavior.”
With 74 percent of Americans saying Trump should release his returns, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s about how our democracy works, says Levin, who worked on Capitol Hill in the belly of the beast where he learned firsthand what moves votes and attitudes. Hint: It’s not Hillary Clinton.