NEW YORK — With Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat, a force in American political life for nearly four decades comes to an abrupt end.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, a husband-and-wife duo unmatched in U.S. history, brought people across the country into politics, created a vast fundraising network and shaped the nation by holding some of the highest offices in the land.
Clinton, 69, who has made two failed bids at the presidency, is unlikely to be on the front lines of politics again. Her husband, Bill Clinton, 70, a former president who was widely expected to be the first husband to accompany his wife to the White House, likely will return to philanthropic efforts at his family’s foundation.
“I’m glad the Clintons came along. They have contributed greatly to the country and the world,” said Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who is close to the Clintons. “I think they will both be willing to help in the search for new leadership.”
The Clintons represented the rise and maturation of the baby boom generation, perhaps the most discussed, analyzed and self-referential generation in our country’s history. In that sense, they were emblematic of its aspirations, as well of its outsized feelings of self-worth.
On Wednesday, as Donald Trump began to prepare to move into the White House, Clinton said goodbye to American politics and pushed the next generation to keep fighting.
“Many of you are at the beginning of your professional public and political careers,” she told a ballroom full of supporters who had gathered to hear her officially concede the election. “You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is worth it. And so we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.”
Clinton won the popular vote — a fact Democrats emphasized Wednesday — but Trump reached the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency with a string of surprising victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
This year, like her first run in 2008, when she lost the Democratic primary to Barack Obama, Clinton’s candidacy had a bit of inevitability about it. Her aides were confident of a win against the opponent they saw as the weakest among the Republican possibilities, especially in the final days. They brought out champagne for the last day of campaigning, talked about what jobs they would have in the White House and planned to celebrate Tuesday night with fireworks over the Hudson River.
But Clinton’s campaign underestimated the anger in America and distrust in government, especially by working-class white voters, some of the same voters who had thrust Bill Clinton into the White House in 1992. Democrats now will have to determine how to appeal to blue-collar workers again and how to unite the party, which showed deep fissures in the primary between younger and older voters and liberal and moderate factions.
And with Republicans maintaining control of Congress and holding a record number of governorships, they will have to start looking for new leaders. Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, will be at the top of that list, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Housing Secretary Julian Castro of Texas.
The Clinton dynasty was launched in the 1970s when Bill Clinton first ran for office in his native Arkansas. He served as attorney general and then governor. As president, he is credited with creating 23 million jobs and presiding over the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. As first lady, Clinton’s stature grew as she presided over a failed attempt to pass a national health care law and traveled globally to talk about women’s rights as human rights. She later served as a U.S. senator from New York and Obama’s secretary of state.