Hillary Clinton, who spent decades on the public stage in a myriad of roles and changing personas, emerged Tuesday in a new one: ghost from the political past.
The reception was decidedly mixed.
On the day marking publication of her third memoir, the former first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of State, two-time Democratic White House hopeful and loser of the searing 2016 presidential race made a flurry of campaign-style stops, including a book signing and media interviews.
It was a chance to reopen old political wounds and allow partisans to fall back on familiar antagonisms.
For Clinton fans, their ardor undimmed, the reemergence of their heroine offered an opportunity to ponder what might have been.
In New York City, hundreds lined up at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan for a chance to shake her hand, enjoy a snatch of conversation and buy their own autographed copy of “What Happened.”
Shannon and Jessica Marshall, 29-year-old twin sisters from New York, dug out the blue “I’m With Her” T-shirts they hadn’t worn since the early hours of Nov. 9, when Clinton conceded defeat to Donald Trump. “The world would be a lot less stressful if she’d won,’’ said Shannon, who arrived at 5 a.m. to be among the first in line.
The former candidate, wearing a luminescent turquoise jacket and black pantsuit, arrived at the bookstore nearly an hour after the scheduled 11 a.m. starting time. The crowd greeted her with shouts of “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!”
Seated on a makeshift stage separating her from reporters and those who came to see her, Clinton made no public remarks to the media but chatted with fans, offering sympathetic bromides to the many who expressed their grief over the election.
“Keep up your spirits,’’ she was overheard saying. “We have to do better. ... I’m glad you like the book.’’
In the course of 491 pages, Clinton took full responsibility for her stunning loss to President Trump — she carried the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college — except when she didn’t.
“I go back over my shortcomings and the mistakes we made,” she wrote. “I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want — but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”
She said her lucrative speechifying after leaving the Obama administration, which drew attacks from both Trump and her primary rival, Bernie Sanders, was a mistake. “I should have realized it would be bad ‘optics,’” she wrote. “I didn’t. That’s on me.”
She also reiterated that her decision to use a private email server as secretary of State, which led to a politically enervating FBI inquiry, was “a dumb mistake.” But, she said by way of qualification, it was “an even dumber ‘scandal.’”
In the same fashion, Clinton’s buck-stops-here declaration yielded to a number of grievances — about misogyny, a public with little patience for substance — and a gallery of villains she blamed for costing her the election.
Among those cited were Sanders, President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and, especially, James B. Comey. The former FBI director came in for particular derision for his handling of the email investigation — and especially reopening the case in the final days of the election based on a fresh cache of emails that proved immaterial.
“What happened in the homestretch that caused so many voters to turn away from me?” Clinton wrote. “First, and most importantly, there was the unprecedented intervention by then-FBI Director Jim Comey.”
She said Obama could have been more forceful responding to Russia’s pro-Trump meddling in the campaign, and also writes that he kept her from going harder after Sanders.
The Vermont senator, a political independent and not a registered Democrat — as Clinton notes — came in for some of her most barbed commentary. “Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t argue against me in this area on policy,” Clinton wrote. “So he had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character. Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supports online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”
The sniping at Sanders, who fired back after excerpts from the book were published last week, has only deepened the trepidation among Democrats wishing Clinton had taken the more typical route, accepting her lumps, not writing the book and retiring to the role of respected, but seldom seen, party elder.
Instead, she will embark on a months-long tour — mixing free book signings and paid appearances — that will stretch into mid-December. Her sole California appearance is scheduled for Oct. 9 in Davis.
“This is not the time to be going around and talking about the past and giving reasons and excuses for why you lost a campaign. Frankly, it helps nothing,” said Jeff Weaver, a senior advisor to Sanders. “Moving forward we need fresh ideas and people who will take the fight to the Trump administration.”
But Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist, said there was nothing wrong with Clinton’s catharsis.
“Yes, as we get into 2018 and 2020 we need to get beyond the past,” said Stein, who served in the Clinton administration. “But in this particular moment is it terrible to continue to allow her to talk about what happened? I think it’s not.”
For their part, Republicans were delighted to take a few shots at their old nemesis and enjoy a break from months of Trump-related upheavals. “The book really is just a big excuse for why she lost,” said Barry Bennett, a Republican strategist who served as an advisor to Trump’s campaign. “She blames everyone for her loss. … She seems to truly be delusional.”
Not surprisingly, Trump came in for brutal treatment in her account.
She describes him as phony, cruel, insensitive, sexist and thoroughly unqualified to serve as president, though she allowed as how: “You’ve got to give it to Trump — he’s hateful, but it’s hard to look away from him.”
She suggested the president not only admires Putin, but wishes to be like him: “A white authoritarian leader who could put down dissenters, repress minorities, disenfranchise voters, weaken the press, and amass untold billions for himself. He dreams of Moscow on the Potomac.”
In an interview published Tuesday in USA Today, Clinton went even further, saying she was convinced the Trump campaign purposely colluded with the Kremlin to tilt the election against her.
“There certainly was communication and there certainly was an understanding of some sort,” she said. “Because there’s no doubt in my mind that Putin wanted me to lose and wanted Trump to win.
“I happen to believe in the rule of law and believe in evidence, so I’m not going to go off and make all kinds of outrageous claims,” she went on. “But if you look at what we’ve learned since [the election], it’s pretty troubling.”
Speaking at the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a tart rejoinder. “I think it’s sad that after Hillary Clinton ran one of the most negative campaigns in history, and lost ... the last chapter of her public life is going to be now defined by propping up book sales with false and reckless attacks,” she said.
In one of the memoir’s more tender moments, Clinton discussed her sometimes-difficult marriage to President Clinton, who was impeached for lying about his White House affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
“There were times that I was deeply unsure about whether our marriage could or should survive. But on those days, I asked myself the questions that mattered to me: Do I still love him?” she wrote. “And can I still be in this marriage without becoming unrecognizable to myself — twisted by anger, resentment or remoteness? The answers were always yes. So I kept going.”
And for those who may wonder, Clinton said, yes, it can be painful to be a public figure so deeply reviled for reasons she still cannot fathom. “For the record,” she wrote, “it hurts to be torn apart.”
But despite what Republicans and even some Democrats might hope, she said, she would not follow the path of those previously vanquished and quietly go away. “There were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,” she wrote. “But here I am.”
Barabak reported from San Francisco and Demick from New York City. Times staff writers Kurtis Lee and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.
2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction.
This article was originally published at 12:00 p.m.