Hillary Clinton is back, whether you like it or not — and Trump certainly doesn’t

A playful and unrestrained Hillary spoke at the New York State Democratic Convention, where she said what she really thought about Trump, Fox News and, perhaps, Joe Biden

Holly Baxter
New York
Thursday 17 February 2022 21:24
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Those suffering from shouty-septuagenarian burnout will be unhappy to hear that it’s 2016 all over again. Hillary Clinton is making speeches, and Donald Trump is insisting that she’s responsible for a political scandal that’s “bigger than Watergate”. In a tantrum that’s largely been ignored by the non-Fox media, the former president has insisted repeatedly that Clinton spied on his White House and tried to frame him as a Russian asset. “Trump & Fox are desperately spinning up a fake scandal to distract from his real ones. So it’s a day that ends in Y,” Clinton tweeted in response to the claims on Wednesday. Some media outlets were even less complimentary, with Vanity Fair’s feature on the whole debacle running under the headline and subheading: “YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT BUT HILLARY CLINTON DID NOT, IN FACT, SPY ON TRUMP’S WHITE HOUSE. In less breaking news, Donald Trump remains a moron.”

All this attention isn’t exactly awful for Hillary, though, who appears to be on some kind of a comeback tour. Having stayed relatively quiet throughout 2020 and most of 2021, the Democratic presidential candidate released a video of herself in December in which she reads out the victory speech she’d planned to give if she won the election against Trump back in 2016. It was essentially promotional material for her new class on resilience with the educational platform MasterClass — but she’s hardly teaching because she needs the money. And the tone of her Twitter account has shifted noticeably in the first few weeks of 2022, becoming a little less worthy and little more spicy. On February 4th, she posted a montage of photographs from the January 6th insurrection with the words “Legitimate political discourse?” Three days later, she invited people to “take a sip from your new mug as you read the news” with a link to buy a mug depicting a cartoon Hillary in sunglasses above the Trumpian plea “But her emails”.

Today, on an unseasonably warm February day in New York, Clinton was back where she feels most comfortable: onstage. Delivering the keynote speech for the New York State Democratic Convention, she walked up to a backtrack, appropriately, of Sia’s “Unstoppable”.

Hillary has the same friendly, folksy way of speaking as her husband Bill, although she tends to ask questions during her speeches a lot more often than he does. She pulled no punches in this speech, made among friends: “It’s funny — the more trouble Trump gets into, the wilder the charges and conspiracy theories about me seem to get,” she said, minutes after a judge ruled elsewhere in New York that Trump and his two children Donald Jr and Ivanka must testify in a civil fraud case investigating the former president. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

Because the Trumps are in trouble, Clinton continued, we can expect that “the noise machine” will get “turned up”. And unlike some members of the Democratic Party — including President Biden — who have chosen not to call out the right-wing media by name during events, Hillary went straight for the jugular, saying plainly that Fox News engages in false reporting and is “counting on their audience to fall for it.” She even added that Fox is “getting awfully close to actual malice in their attacks” — a reference to the fact that political figures have to prove “actual malice” in court if they are to successfully sue a news organization in the United States, and perhaps also a nod toward Sarah Palin’s recent lawsuit claiming just that against The New York Times.

There’s playfulness in this less restrained Hillary, and she seems much more comfortable in her public speeches now she’s not having to play adult to Trump’s unfiltered adolescent. It was fun to watch her call out Fox News, and fun to see her laugh about the conspiracy theories that once unraveled her greatest dream. It was fun to see her say, of 2016, “A lot has changed since then — I’m a little blonder.” It was even fun to see her round off her speech with the usual cheerleading for Democratic values (“The right for women to make our own healthcare decisions” got the biggest cheer) and a couple of catchy putdowns aimed at the GOP (“They’ll ban books but not guns” was a highlight.)

But perhaps the most telling thing about Hillary’s speech today was what she didn’t say. She didn’t say that Biden was solving divisions and healing America; she said, “I know many of us hoped that defeating Trump would start to heal our divisions — that maybe, just maybe, the madness would break — but now it should be clear to all of us that the struggle for unity and democracy is far from over.” She didn’t say that the US has rehabilitated its reputation on the global stage; instead, she said that “we are in unchartered territory” while “our adversaries round the world are watching” (she seemed to stress the word “unchartered” — as in lawless — as opposed to the other possible “uncharted”, as in unknown.) In other words, she’s not playing along with the “Biden as an antidote to what came before” narrative. And in the refusal to wholeheartedly embrace Biden as the solution, she secures her continuing relevance.

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