I first heard she was dropping out of the Democratic primary on CNN. Angry and disappointed at how unfairly she’d been treated, I called my grandmother — another ardent supporter. She agreed. If she had been a man, my grandma said, she would have gotten farther. She would have been the nominee. She was so qualified and she would have been one of our greatest presidents. Now, she was an also-ran.
I’m not taking about Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the Democratic primary today. I’m talking about Hillary Clinton. It was 2008, Hillary conceded the primary to then Senator Barack Obama, and I was heartbroken.
Kamala Harris supporters are understandably devastated today. It’s a feeling I know all too well, having fought the most contentious Democratic primary in the past 25 years on Team Hillary. I was in college, a mere volunteer on her campaign, but I felt every up and down of that emotional rollercoaster for more than a year.
I first saw Hillary Clinton speak in 2007, at a conference in Washington. Most of my friends went to see Barack Obama, who was speaking at that same conference at roughly the same time. A Republican friend of mine, feeling bad that I was going to go alone, accompanied me. From that speech — so cogent, so thoughtful, so inspiring — I was a believer.
At her Bowling Green, Kentucky field office I made cold calls to Democratic voters in Montana, Arizona, and a dozen other states spreading the gospel of Hillary. I knocked on doors in Kentucky and Tennessee, explaining to voters why experience mattered more than youth and soaring oratory. I debated with friends, argued with family, and threw my hands up at the superdelegate system (which, in a weird twist of fate, would help her win the nomination in 2016).
I cried as I watched her concession speech. Hillary told us she was supporting Barack Obama, but I couldn’t be so graceful in defeat.
When Obama staffers approached me to doorstep for him, I refused, embittered by what I saw as an upstart whose time hadn’t come steal the nomination from the seasoned veteran whose had. When friends asked me to help run an Obama booth at a festival, I smugly and vindictively declined. Republican friends, seeing how surly I had become towards my party’s nominee, began talking to me about the war hero their party was nominating. John McCain had the experience I then thought was necessary to make a good president, and I briefly considered voting against everything I believed in — partly because I thought Obama was unready, but mostly to spite him.
When John McCain introduced the world to Sarah Palin, it was shocking, the type of Hail Mary play that can reinvigorate a campaign. That first speech Palin gave in Dayton was electrifying. I began to think that maybe a woman would make it to the White House.
Then… she went off-script. When Sarah Palin started talking about creationism, and how close Russia was to Alaska, and, well, anything at all, I snapped back to my senses. This woman was manifestly unfit for office, a dangerous fringe figure who would be an existential threat to the very institutions we hold dear.
It wasn’t long after Sarah Palin’s ill-fated interview with Katie Couric that I worked my first booth for Barack Obama. Sitting there, with my former rivals-turned-fellow-campaigners, I felt incredibly silly for taking so long to see the light. Obama was leaps and bounds better than not only Palin, but McCain, too. As a Democrat and progressive, I couldn’t believe I had been so juvenile as to let a primary loss almost drive me into the problematic arms of the GOP. On November 4th 2008, I proudly voted for America’s first black president.
Which brings me back to Kamala Harris. I know how gutted her supporters are today. No one expects you to endorse someone else tomorrow or to fly to Iowa to doorstep for another candidate. You need a little time to lick your wounds.
But learn from mistakes in 2008. The stakes were high then, and they’re higher now. Donald Trump has spent the past three years proving he’s a million times worse than what we ever imagined Sarah Palin would be. We were fighting to keep her out of the White House; we’re fighting to get Trump out of it.
The eventual nominee will need more than your vote, they’ll need your enthusiastic support. So lick your wounds for a little while, but then get back to work — it’s what Hillary did, and it’s what Kamala would want.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee