People wanted Hillary Clinton to be angrier on the campaign trail — about the problems facing everyday Americans, and on behalf of them — and her team knew it.
The problem was they couldn’t do anything about it, according to Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin, who spoke to New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister for an exposé on Clinton’s life after the election. Why were their hands tied? Because she’s a woman, Schwerin said.
“Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both excelled at channeling people’s anger,” he told Traister:
“And there was a way in which this anger was read as authentic. But there’s a reason why male candidates can shout and are called passionate, and if a woman candidate raises her voice to whip up a crowd, she’s screeching and yelling.”
Clinton understood this, says Schwerin. “So she’s controlled. She doesn’t rant and rave, she’s careful. And then that’s read as inauthentic; it means that she doesn’t understand how upset people are, or the pain people are in, because she’s not angry in the way those guys are angry. So she must be okay with the status quo because she’s not angry.”
Clinton still believes in her strategy not to get angry, despite the public outcry for her to act differently. In fact, she tells Traister that she “beat both” Sanders and Trump (likely referring to the popular vote) with this tactic:
There are plenty of people who yearned for Clinton to get mad; during the campaign, an imagined litany of Clinton’s fury entitled “Let Me Remind You Fuckers Who I Am” went viral. “Oh, I am [pissed],” [Clinton] says. But as a woman in public life, “you can’t be angry for yourself. You just can’t. You can be indignant, you can be annoyed, you can be frustrated, but you can’t be angry … I don’t think anger’s a strategy.”
You mean it’s not a strategy for you, I clarify. “For me, yeah.” She pauses. “But I don’t think it’s a good strategy for most people.”
But this was an election that was, in many ways, about anger. And Trump and Sanders capitalized on that.
“Yes.” Clinton nods. “And I beat both of them.”
Traister has long followed this tension with female candidates — and specifically with Clinton. In an interview with Vox during the 2016 campaign season, she argued that there were certain characteristics of Sanders’s that voters were yearning for Clinton to emulate — but she just couldn’t.
“Try to imagine a woman of any age that says, ‘I'm going to take this country and lead it to revolution,’” Traister told me. “‘I am going to upend everything. I am going to make radical change.’ Can you think, in this country, of any woman who has gotten up and yelled that she wants a revolution, that we have been like, yay? No, not at all.”
Not even Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who in many ways served as Clinton’s attack dog on the campaign trail, was able to pull off revolution unscathed during her congressional run, Traister notes.
“When Elizabeth Warren was making those promises while running for Senate, there were scads of stories that she was a bad candidate, she wasn’t inspiring, she wasn’t connecting with people, she wasn’t a natural on the stump,” Traister said.
Clinton’s loss in November continues to perplex voters, pollsters, and social scientists — everyone wants to know how an unqualified man, running on a xenophobic and racist platform with a seemingly unorganized campaign, beat a competent, highly qualified woman running on a platform similar to an extremely popular sitting president, with an incredibly professional and extensive team behind her.
Of course, the answer, while unsatisfying to many, is that there are many reasons. And as researchers and campaign strategists have concluded, for Clinton, being a woman politician long in the public eye was one of those factors.