They hoped that, with this campaign, things had finally reached a breaking point. “Republicans will realize we have to come together as a country,” said Letia Stanley, a 28-year-old insurance saleswoman I met at a Clinton rally in Philadelphia. “Hillary has always been someone to work across the aisle, even with people who didn’t like her personally.”
In places like Philadelphia, the campaign is airing an ad featuring a Republican woman who says she’s voting for Clinton because she has a son with autism. “I don’t always agree with her, but she’s reasonable, and she’s smart, and she can work with people to solve problems,” the woman says.
Even Obama seems to believe that Clinton can succeed where he failed. “If, in fact, it’s a President Clinton and Vice President Kaine, they will come into office in a different position than I did,” he told The New Yorker recently. “They won’t be confronting a crisis of historic proportions. They will have, hopefully, the luxury of choosing what are the first couple issues to work on, and, so, rather than trying to pass an eight-hundred-billion-dollar stimulus, or save the auto industry, or revamp the financial system—all of which were fraught with concern for Republicans steeped in small-government or no-government philosophies—they may be able to work on something like infrastructure, that is more likely to lend itself to pragmatic solutions.”
Obama always hoped the Republicans’ “fever” would break and they would finally see the political upside in giving him what he wanted. Yet the fever seems as hot as ever: Jason Chaffetz, the representative who heads the House Oversight Committee, has promised wall-to-wall investigations, and Ted Cruz, the Tea Party senator, wonders if the Supreme Court really needs a ninth justice.
An argument has broken out about whether, if she wins by a large margin, Clinton will have a “mandate,” with liberals saying her election will have been a clear endorsement of her vision and conservatives—a group that couldn’t even win their own party’s primary—saying it will have proved only that she was lucky enough to run against Trump.
The full-time attackers of the right and the left are circling as they always have, getting ready to demand their due and tear her apart. The Clinton voters regard all this negativity with puzzlement. “It feels like there’s a lot of anger out there,” Patrick Janovsky, who lives in Philadelphia and works in sales, told me. He wore an orange vest and a Chicago Cubs hat, and he had brought his 8-year-old son to see America’s first female president. “I’m not angry! I don’t know why people aren’t listening to one another.”
The rally in Philadelphia took place on a dark freezing night near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Clinton was joined by her running mate, Tim Kaine, who made an appeal to unity and consensus, as if those things still existed in America—as if they might still be possible. “There’s a momentum that’s happening in this race,” he said. “Americans are choosing the kind of country they want for their children and grandchildren!”
Then Clinton took the stage, and picked up the microphone, and laughed her steely laugh. “Hello, Penn!” she cried. “Hello, Pennsylvania! I am so excited to be here tonight!”
She was winning, doing whatever it took, and for now that was all that mattered. And then she would bow her head, grimly, to the next impossible task.