Gabby, born in 1972 and living in Alabama, says her mom could not bring herself to vote for Trump. Her mom voted the Republican ticket all the way down the line, but when it came to Trump, she just couldn’t mark it. All the questionable remarks about women’s anatomy and his penchant for Twitter rants created a kind of force field around that particular ballot option and her mom choose instead to abstain from selecting a president. As a person who considers herself a fiscal conservative and social liberal, Gabby also struggled with the selection, though she did end up casting a vote for Trump.
As we talk, it becomes clear that the election is just a side note to her personal story of transformation.
She has a degree in fashion merchandising and owned a bridal shop for 20 years. A few years ago, weary from the ups and downs of small business ownership, she sold the shop and went back to school to become a nurse. Since then, she’s weathered the challenge of being a full-time student while parenting her two kids but she’ll soon be qualified to care for patients in a hospital.
Talking to Gabby, I can hear the optimism in her voice. She’s empowered herself by creating a new vision for her life and then doing the hard work to make it a reality. I know first-hand the difficulty of taking such a risk, especially as a woman in mid-life. The countless waves of naysaying and doubt one will face—many from your own mind. The determination one must pull from deep reserves to keep on the path.
Place that struggle on a global stage and amplify the skepticism to a deafening roar for just a taste of what Hillary Clinton’s been through. I respect the fierce willpower she’s had to possess from a young age, when political aspirations for women were even less realistic than they are today. I marvel at the unflinching focus with which she has chipped away at her goals for 50 years, displaying impressive dedication.
For as clearly as the public saw her as a “female candidate,” I think Clinton herself made too few concessions to her gender to please the electorate. Ambition in a woman is a tricky thing; people tend to label a woman with it as “desperate” or “scary.” If you have it, and especially if you have a lot of it, it’s best to keep it hidden. That way, people will think you’ve stumbled into your accomplishments and they will like you more. Clinton did not take this approach—her drive was clear for the world to see.
One of the reasons she was put off by Clinton, Gabby says, is the fact that Hillary received money from Saudi Arabia, a country that does not grant equal rights to women. Again, Clinton was playing the game of politics, more concerned with being a shrewd competitor than one who weighs with every move the implications of being female.
Gabby may not have liked Clinton, but she wasn’t a huge fan of Trump either. She says, of the Republican nominees, she would have liked to have seen more of Ben Carson. On the Democrat side, she liked Bernie Sanders.
In the months since the election, a question I’ve heard raised among left-leaning voters is, “Would the outcome have been different had the Democratic Party nominated Sanders instead of Clinton?” This is the first I’m hearing a Trump voter say something that seems to bolster the theory that Sanders may have been a more viable candidate than Clinton.
Gabby’s comments force me to form words around a vague hunch: Clinton shares responsibility for Trump’s victory. She was so focused on her goal of being president that she turned a blind eye to evidence that she wasn’t the best candidate. She could not sacrifice her vision even as many Americans were clearly stating that, for whatever reason, they did not find her likeable or trustworthy.
“I seriously would have considered voting for Sanders,” Gabby says. The words are barely out of her mouth when something inside me shifts. For all the compassion I’ve had for Clinton during such a brutal campaign and defeat, for the first time I feel angry at her.
As woman, she couldn’t have soared to such heights without outsized ambition, but it also blinded her to how unpalatable she had become to constituents. A complicated Catch-22, if ever there was one, for harboring ambition while being female may have been the very thing that people found so off-putting.