It’s normal for conceding presidential candidates to give their speech in the middle of the night, as their guests are still at HQ and the final results are trickling in.
Hillary Clinton, however, decided not to do that after losing the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Instead her team arranged for a mid-morning speech on the day after the vote. It was held at a separate venue – at a hotel in New York – with seats for staff and supporters.
Speeches by losing candidates are interesting. The chosen tone, message, content and length tell us a lot about the state of democracy and the health of the candidate’s party. In fact, a CNN commentator claimed ahead of Clinton’s address that the concession speech is often more important for the health of democracy than the victory speech.
Clinton’s decision to make her speech in the morning means that she could say something more planned than if she had to cobble together a late-night reaction at a “let’s get it over with” event. It also means a better chance for news coverage, since a little time has passed since the upset of the result.
A later speech, according to commentators such as CNN, allowed Clinton to concede “on her own terms”. Crucially, it also meant not speaking in front of a set clearly designed for a victory speech.
Her role post result was to thank supporters but also to attempt to get some key messages across. Media have been briefed that Clinton’s speech would be a message to the American people about “the way forward”.
She stressed the need for participation over time. Democracy, she reminded her supporters, does not just mean casting a vote every four years, it’s a constant commitment. While she appealed to her audience to accept the result, the message was clear – continue to monitor Trump’s America.
“Our campaign was never about one person or one election,” she said. “It was about the country we love, about building a country that was hopeful, inclusive and big hearted.”
She was also keen to stress inclusion, shared values, and the “vision we hold for our country”, despite not making any direct references to concern that her opponent lacks these values.
There was a strong sense of passing on a torch to her supporters: “You represent the best of America,” she told the room, before promising that a woman president will happen one day.
I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling but some day, someone will and hopefully sooner than we think right now.
Speaking to the alarm felt by many about the tone of the campaign, Clinton acknowledged the divisions in American society and stressed “the rule of law” and equality under the law. “We respect and cherish these values … and we must defend them,” she said.
Whether this was a goodbye, or a rallying call for a new movement, isn’t quite clear. But Clinton was certainly keen to focus on the future of her country rather than dwelling on her loss. She admitted the the result is painful and “will be for some time” and there was a moment when she looked ready to cry, but she pulled it back quickly.
So what now for Hillary Clinton? I’m not sure. But the delivery of a speech like this on a day which must be full of pain shows she is nothing if not a professional political operator.