In 2015, Hillary Clinton’s brains trust deliberately elevated the stature of the “extreme” Republican contenders, the “pied pipers”, Donald Trump included. On election night in 2016, Clintonworld stared into the abyss.
“It was sheer disbelief,” Huma Abedin writes in her new memoir. “More like shock.”
Clinton, Abedin as campaign vice-chair and other aides failed to grasp that Trump was spearheading a movement, his mien his message. Clinton branded half of his supporters “deplorables”.
Not surprisingly, in her memoir Abedin shows a blind spot to Clinton family shortcomings. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, for example, “it seemed very likely” to her that it “was untrue”. Somehow, an intern who rose to become one of Hillary’s closest confidantes forgot that even before Lewinsky, Bill Clinton’s sexual conduct had almost throttled his White House ambitions. Bill and Hillary even appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes to salvage his viability.
“I’m not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” Hillary said.
Not surprisingly, as Hillary’s so-called “second daughter”, Abedin has a problem coming to grips with an immovable likability deficit that cost her boss both times she ran for president.
“Why was HRC not likeable?” Abedin asks. “This was particularly difficult to understand for those who knew her, since as far as we were concerned that was a quality she had in abundance.”
Others have plumbed such waters – and found Clinton wanting. Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, for example, a Pulitzer Prize winner, portrayed Hillary sporting a “foul mouth” and being loathed by the agents who protected her. After members of her Secret Service detail overheard Chelsea Clinton calling them “pigs”, Leonnig wrote, the first daughter was reminded that their job was to “stand between you, your family and a bullet”.
Chelsea reportedly responded: “Well, that’s what my mother and father call you.”
Abedin does not discuss how, out of office, Hillary scooped up windfalls in the commodities market and easy millions in Wall Street speaking fees, all while doing her best impersonation of Mother Teresa.
Clinton’s second run for president tarnished her image. In December 2017, a Gallup poll pegged her favorability at 37%. But unlike Mandy Grunwald, an adviser to both Clintons, Abedin refuses to admit that Hillary has foibles.
According to Grunwald, Clinton could sound like she “DOESN’T think the game is rigged” against normal Americans, mustering only recognition that the “public thinks so”. Said differently, Clinton conveyed obliviousness to the Great Recession of 2008-09, its casualties and anxieties.
In April 2015, nearly half of the US self-identified as working- or lower-class. Between November 2007 and late 2016, white Americans in that bracket lost more than 700,000 jobs.
Abedin describes sitting with Clinton in Iowa, watching Trump “ramble incoherently about himself”. She captures Clinton saying: “I just don’t get it.” Similarly, Abedin mocks Bernie Sanders’ call for a “revolution” and glosses over the fact that Clinton only beat the Vermont senator to clinch the nomination in early June 2016, more than a week after Trump wrapped up the Republican nod.
“With each contest, she methodically racked up the number of delegates she needed to secure the nomination,” Abedin writes. That’s pure spin. It was supposed to be a coronation. They didn’t plan on winning the Iowa caucuses by a razor-thin margin or getting walloped in New Hampshire, where Clinton won on her first go-round.
A youth-driven movement helped propel Sanders’ rise. Aspiration and grievance counted. The bankers had gotten their bailouts. Sanders supporters were staring at a future bleaker than their parents had known. Clinton had gone from the “beer track” candidate of 2008 to the pick of the wine drinkers, the coastal establishment. And yet, according to Abedin, defeat by Trump still came as a bolt from the blue.
Both/And lets the reader play voyeur and counselor too. Abedin delivers the skinny on her courtship by, marriage to and traumatic estrangement from the former congressman Anthony Weiner. She shares that they attended couples’ therapy, and that he possessed darker secrets than she first thought.
She also describes how an unnamed senator shoved his tongue down her throat and pinned her against a couch while the pair were in his apartment for late-night coffee. Abedin writes that she repressed memories of the event until they came rushing back amid Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, when the supreme court nominee was accused of, and denied, sexual assault.
Asked by CBS if the senator had committed a sexual assault, Abedin paused.
“Did I feel like he was assaulting me in that moment?” she told Nora O’Donnell. “I didn’t, it didn’t feel that way. I was in an uncomfortable situation with a senator and I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
This does not appear to be the final word. Members of the Senate worry about who else the unnamed senator may have abused. Philippe Reines, a former Clinton aide, says it is up to Abedin “alone to decide what to share, with whom, how and when”.
Abedin’s eye for style asserts itself throughout her memoir – even as she deals with how her husband made damaging headlines. In May 2011, she woke up in Buckingham Palace and surveyed the room. Her “long, fitted gown for the evening’s white-tie dinner hung on the bathroom door”. An “elegant chestnut-brown writing desk” stood at the “foot of the bed”. The same weekend, Weiner alerted his pregnant wife to his sexting habits. Weiner went to prison but he and Abedin are not completely estranged.
Both/And is also a story of Abedin’s life before and outside politics. She tells of being born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of spending most of her youth in Saudi Arabia, a father and mother who held doctorates, of family ties in the Middle East, the subcontinent and the US. It is the strongest part of the book, a tale of an immigrant, of an upward arc.