Either you’ll immediately get why this is crazy, or you won’t: Hillary Clinton wrote a thing for The Toast today.
Are you weeping? Did your heart skip a beat? Maybe your reaction was, “What. Whaaaat. WHAT,” or “Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” or “OH MY GOD,” or simply “this is too much goodbye I'm dead now.”
Perhaps your feelings can only be captured in GIF form, as was the case for someone commenting on Clinton’s post under the name Old_Girl:
Reader comments like the ones above are arguably the best part of Clinton’s post, because they highlight just how meaningful hearing directly from Clinton is to The Toast’s community of readers. The Toast is a small but beloved feminist website known for its quirky literary humor. It announced last month it couldn’t afford to continue operating. Friday is its last day of publication.
“I know that today is the final day of The Toast, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what this space—and spaces like it—mean for women …” Clinton wrote. “As we look back at what this site has meant to so many of you, I hope you’ll also look forward and consider how you might make your voice heard in whatever arenas matter most to you.”
For the people who haven’t reacted with some variation of “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” or “what’s a toast?” there have been observations about how deeply weird it is to see Clinton pop up on a relatively small site with a seemingly personal message. It’d be a little like having her show up at the bar, scooch into the booth with your group of friends, and ask to try a sip of your IPA.
Or, you know, like having her do a cameo on Broad City, a show made by (and starring) women who occupy a similarly Toast-esque space. (Clinton appeared on the show in March.) Many Toast readers are likely already Clinton supporters, but they’re also more likely to be in the younger demographic of women who aren’t as enthusiastic about her as their mothers and grandmothers are. In fact, one poll found most Americans don’t view Clinton’s nomination for the presidency as historic—despite her being the first woman to clinch a major party’s nomination in U.S. history—a position that’s particularly pronounced among young people. A whopping 71 percent of people under age 30 said Clinton securing the Democratic nomination was not a “historic moment.” These are the voters Clinton needs, and she knows it.
Just the way the internet has made the micro-targeting of niche audiences possible in every other way—tracking ads that follow you with images of the products you’ve googled, for example—political campaigning in the 21st century has followed suit. Clinton’s byline on The Toast is an extension of “delete your account.” It takes personalized campaign emails to the next level. (Incidentally, the greatest thing I ever read about those emails appeared on The Hairpin, the site where The Toast’s founders met. “Subject Lines of Obama Campaign Emails That Sound Like a Stalker Wrote Them,” by my now-colleague Julie Beck.)
It’s essentially this: Hillary Clinton doesn’t just (hire people who) know the inside jokes to use on Twitter, she knows the inside jokes on Weird Twitter. And this is an attitude that reflects her campaign’s larger strategy; a bet that the so-called “national conversation” isn’t the thing that will carry Clinton to victory in the general election, as Emily Schultheis put it last year. Instead, her campaign is betting on making more intimate connections with small groups of voters, “the persona she builds in key areas, and the buzz she generates with local activists.” For anyone who has seen Clinton engage with a small crowd—and how warm and funny she can be, contrary to popular opinion—this approach will make sense. Clinton’s campaign has emphasized the importance of “meeting people where they are,” and it turns out that some of those people are online reading The Toast.
Writing for a small dying website may seem strange, but that’s the brilliance of the niche campaign play in the 2016 election: You trade little effort for slightly more reward. Hitting up high-profile donors at a fancy-shmancy dinner takes quite a bit of time and energy on the part of a candidate. Writing (or, not to be too cynical here, but maybe even just green-lighting) a heartfelt statement for a beloved website takes far less time. Readers of The Toast may not produce a windfall in campaign donations, but if Clinton can convert some of the site’s readers into contributors, it will have been worth the time.
"I HAVE NEVER BEEN PANDERED TO SO EFFECTIVELY BEFORE,” one commenter wrote.
And in a tweet from Nicole Cliffe, one of The Toast’s founders: “turns out that pandering to ME by NAME doesn't feel like pandering and now I am Team Hillary, let's get our lady president.” In a comment on the site, she added: “Asking if Hillary wanted to receive her fifty dollar freelancing payment via check or PayPal was one of the best moments of my life.”