Nearly 25 years after they first conquered the White House and captured the commanding heights of the Democratic party, the Clinton family crashed to earth on Wednesday, shattering the ambitions of Hillary Clinton and her clan of fiercely loyal operatives.
But as they come to terms with their rout some Democrats see a glimmer of hope, and a badly needed chance to rebuild a party that can appeal to a broader swath of America, and, quite frankly, does not include the Clinton coterie.
“I see a lot of silver lining in this,” one former staffer of Bill Clinton’s administration admitted. “It’s good for us to let go of that stranglehold.”
“We’re going to start from a very clean slate,” he said. “Let us fight it out and figure it out.”
In the wake of Mrs Clinton’s defeat, most Democrats have been careful not to blame their candidate, focusing on the populist mood and the surprising resonance of Mr Trump’s unique, upstart candidacy.
Yet others have wondered aloud whether the party would have done better to allow for a more robust primary that would have enabled Democratic voters to pick from a wider selection of candidates — and perhaps one better suited to the race’s populist undercurrents.
Over the course of the race, Mrs Clinton struggled to swipe her MetroCard while taking a well-publicised ride on the New York subway — a sign, critics said, that she was out of touch with the common voter. While harmless on the surface, the incident seemed to highlight senior aides’ top fears: that Mrs Clinton had spent so many years in high-profile positions, she had ended up in a sort of bubble — ensconced in various private jets and limousines and surrounded by acolytes.
In Arkansas, the state where Mrs Clinton spent more than a decade as first lady, she received just 374,000 votes — or 6,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama received in 2012.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, the two states that arguably swung the election, Mrs Clinton received roughly 300,000 fewer votes than Mr Obama did, suggesting that the president’s supporters either stayed at home or cast their votes for Mr Trump or a third-party candidate.
“By and large, there were parts of the Obama coalition that didn’t end up providing the number of votes that Clinton needed and that’s true among younger voters,” admitted Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who worked for Mrs Clinton’s main super PAC, Priorities USA. “It was clear from the start that Clinton had a problem with that.”
Debbie Dingell, a Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, said she had tried to warn the Clinton campaign were struggling in Michigan back during the Democratic primary and throughout the general election but that she was ignored.
“Much of [my] district is Democratic and those voters strongly supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. That result didn’t surprise me, It did infuriate me that Clinton and her team did not show up until the weekend before the primary, when it suddenly became clear they had a problem. I took Bill Clinton grocery shopping that Saturday — too little, way too late. They never stopped on a campus; never went to a union hall, never talked to the Arab-American community,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week.
Paradoxically, Mr Clinton was one of the few people inside the clan to have warned of the lack of enthusiasm among working-class voters for his wife, but was rebuffed by other campaign aides.
While some of Mrs Clinton’s staffers played down the existence of an enthusiasm gap during the campaign, that disconnection does seem to have been borne out in the results.
“Her voters didn’t vote,” said the former Clinton staff member. “Why didn’t they vote? Because they weren’t energised and excited. The people who were most jazzed about her were the Clinton cabal who were plotting their Paris ambassadorship or their job in the administration.”
Rick Boucher, a former Democratic congressman who represented a rural part of Virginia that turned Republican in 2010, linked Mrs Clinton’s defeat to the term “flyover country”, an epithet used by some on east and west coasts to describe the territory in between.
“It’s a dismissive phrase. ‘We don’t have to be concerned about these folks’. But it has a very tangible effect. The people in the heartland of America obviously feel ignored. They have a sense that people don’t care about them. This election was about those sentiments. It was a cry to be heard. And the Democratic party must respond. It’s essential.”
While some have blamed FBI director James Comey for Mrs Clinton’s defeat, and his decision to open a new FBI probe into Mrs Clinton’s emails one week before the election, others rejected this suggestion, saying it ignored the fundamentals on the ground.
“Anyone blaming Comey is kidding themselves,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of the Democratic think-tank Third Way. “It wasn’t Comey. It was anger at government and anger at the party of government that she represented and this desire to express this anger as aggressively as possible,” he said.
“This is the worst shape the Democrats have been in since reconstruction in terms of legislative seats in Congress. It’s kind of a smoking pile of rubble.”
Already, Democrats are plotting the best path forward, and the backbench politicians who could take up Mrs Clinton’s mantle as the figurehead and leader of the party. On Thursday, Howard Dean, the former presidential candidate, put his name forward for his old job — the head of the Democratic National Committee — while Mr Sanders has put forward the name of Keith Ellison, a fellow progressive.
Among those seen of the future of the party are Mr Sanders, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey senator Corey Booker and Julian Castro, Mr Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.
Barney Frank, a former Democratic congressman and architect of landmark financial reform that bear his name, said one good outcome from the election was that it had helped the Democratic party to unite on two key issues: foreign policy and trade, with Democrats rejecting the idea that America had to “play the role of keeping order in the world” and demanding that future trade agreements come with measures to address inequality.
“Historically over the past 20 years those were two issues which divided Democrats. Those are now over,” he claimed.