As Donald Trump prepared to take the stage at a Las Vegas campaign rally Sunday, conservative commentator Wayne Allyn Root galvanized the audience with an elaborate fantasy of Hillary Clinton and her closest aide, Huma Abedin, heading for the Mexican border on the lam and then driving off a cliff à la Thelma & Louise.
Coming from Trump supporters, this imagined scenario of Clinton and Abedin plunging to their fiery ends is predictably grotesque. But for those of us who aren’t actually fantasizing about Clinton and Abedin’s death, it’s a potent metaphor: With her decision to stay with her husband until it was far too late, Abedin had seemingly driven herself through hell and brought her unwitting, though certainly sympathetic, boss along for the ride.
Indeed, Clinton surely sees herself in Abedin and vice versa, and not just because both have been humiliated by their husbands’ extramarital sex scandals.
Abedin has been Clinton’s ever-loyal aide since Clinton ran for president in 2008, and had worked for her in other capacities for more than 10 years before that.
A former Bill Clinton adviser has described Abedin as “a mini-Hillary,” and their lives are so intertwined that Abedin’s personal fortune is linked to the Clinton campaign. While working for Clinton when she was secretary of State, Abedin received money from the Clinton Foundation and from Teneo, a consulting firm co-founded by a former senior aide to Bill Clinton.
Both women were politically ambitious from a young age, and both have seen their political ambitions be sidelined by their husbands’ mistakes.
But Abedin’s prior efforts to salvage her marriage with Anthony Weiner and bolster their political power coupledom may now threaten her own road to the White House as Clinton’s top aide.
While Weiner’s political career has gone up in smoke (at least for now), Abedin’s potential undoing by proxy seems to be a tragedy that uniquely befalls women in power.
Clinton’s decision to stand by her philandering husband while he was president more than 20 years ago has dogged her own presidential campaign. When Abedin’s husband proved to be sexually compulsive, reckless, and unfaithful (at least in cyberspace), she followed in Clinton’s footsteps only to be punished for doing so.
When it seemed Abedin’s personal life couldn’t get much worse, with her husband caught sending yet another bulge photo—this time with their 4-year-old son pictured sleeping a few inches away—she finally filed for divorce in August, after more than five years of being publicly humiliated by Weiner’s freewheeling genitalia.
Now, with Clinton seemingly close to winning the election, Weiner’s sexting compulsions have jeopardized her campaign—and potentially Abedin’s career.
If the Bulge With Sleeping Child photo was the last straw in their marriage, another bombshell would drop soon after: Weiner was reported to have exchanged lewd messages with a minor. Having confiscated Weiner’s laptop in October to investigate allegations that he sexted a 15-year-old girl, it was announced Friday that the feds had found thousands of emails on the computer from Abedin’s time at the State Department.
This raises a number of questions, the most pressing being whether or not Abedin lied under oath in a deposition last June when she told lawyers for conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch that she turned over all devices she believed contained government classified records to the State Department.
At the moment, there is no evidence that Abedin lied; it appears that she unwittingly amassed emails on her computers and government-issued BlackBerry.
In a statement released late Monday night, Abedin attorney Karen Dunn said Huma “only learned for the first time on Friday, from press reports, of the possibility that a laptop belonging to Mr. Weiner could contain emails of hers,” adding that the “FBI has not contacted us about this.”
Still, the most recent blow for Abedin also raises questions about her as a wife and woman versus as a skilled political operative who has worked closely with Hillary Clinton since she was the first lady’s 19-year-old intern in the 1990s.
From the outside, it’s easy to view Abedin as a woman perpetually wronged by her husband but too blinkered by love and loyalty to end their marriage. But Abedin has never positioned herself as a victim. Rather, she seemed to always weigh the objective benefits and downsides of an imperfect marriage against separation when it came to her own political future.
“Launching this campaign was not an easy decision for our family to make,” she wrote in Harpers Bazaar of her husband’s 2013 run for New York City mayor. “Putting yourself out there comes with a cost.”
She’d clearly analyzed the cost of staying with Weiner, and determined that she would benefit more politically—as potential chief of staff to the country’s first woman president—and personally, as a mother to a young child with Weiner from staying with him.
Though she was absent during Weiner’s 2011 resignation from Congress after his first sexting scandal, Abedin literally stood by his side during a 2013 press conference on the heels of still more bulge shots he’d sent to random women on the Internet, this time under his infamous “Carlos Danger” moniker.
Preferring to remain silent as controversy swirls around her, Abedin on that occasion stepped into the spotlight and spoke. “I love him. I have forgiven him. I believe in him. And, as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward,” she said, prompting cries on social media for “Huma for Mayor,” now that her husband had sabotaged his bid to win the New York City mayoral race.
Given the very public infidelity that Hillary Clinton weathered as first lady, not to mention the dozens of other affairs her husband was rumored to have had over the course of their marriage, it’s hardly surprising that Abedin—who has been described as Clinton’s “second daughter”—also chose to stay with her husband despite his sexting proclivities.
She’s also spent most of her adult life in very close connection with the Clintons. Bill officiated at her wedding with Weiner, and neither he nor Hillary have ever spoken publicly about Weiner’s political or personal shortcomings.
They’ve seemingly stood by Abedin’s decisions, both when standing by her husband, and in her role now (Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, used those very words Saturday—“We of course stand by her”—when asked if Abedin would be stepping down).
Given Weiner’s consistently self-destructive patterns in recent years, perhaps Abedin should have re-evaluated the cost-benefit analysis of staying in a marriage with someone who was hapless and impulsive enough to exchange inappropriate messages with a minor.
The hell she’s going through may be partially self-inflicted, but that she should be punished for what is ultimately her husband’s wrongdoing is its own glaring indictment of sexist attitudes.