Requiem for a presidential dream: Clinton's concession speech, the farewell nobody planned


NEW YORK The save-the-date for the funeral of Hillary Clinton's campaign landed in reporters' inboxes at 3:38 a.m. on Wednesday, as the election night that wouldn't end dragged on.

"Can confirm she will speak tomorrow morning," a Clinton aide wrote on the condition he not be named, as if that mattered anymore. "You will have further details when they are set."

Four and a half hours later, the formal invitation arrived. Clinton would speak at 9:30 a.m. from a ballroom at the New Yorker, a hotel on 34th Street in Manhattan, not far from where the wake for her presidential run was improvised hours earlier.

Reporters, photographers, producers and cameramen soon descended on the scene, just a short drive from the headquarters of the major television networks. They formed a line that quickly stretched around the block. 

No one had slept. Many wore the same clothes they had donned just a few hours earlier at the Javits Center, where Clinton's would-be victory party became a late-night mourning session as Donald Trump assumed the title of president-elect of the United States.

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As members of the media lined the wall outside the hotel, buses hailing from Brooklyn dropped off campaign staffers who had been up all night at Clinton headquarters. They trudged through the rain and into the hotel, wiping away tears in silence as TV correspondents tried to explain the surreal events of the previous 12 hours to viewers back home.

Most of the staff was unable to fit into the relatively intimate ballroom where flags provided the backdrop for Clinton's concession speech. Longtime Clinton friends, former colleagues and current confidantes filled the seats as a few dozen others watched from above.

John Podesta, the campaign chairman who addressed the crowd earlier that morning at the Javits Center, emerged through the curtain leading up to the lectern to a standing ovation, as did campaign manager Robby Mook and close aide Huma Abedin. Sen. Tim Kaine spoke first with his wife, Anne Holton, standing by his side.  

The vanquished former secretary of state took the stage shortly before noon, joined by former President Bill Clinton, daughter Chelsea and son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky. The men and women who had spent several years of their lives working to elect Clinton president greeted the family with a long, loud ovation, many of them openly sobbing as Clinton delivered what was surely the hardest speech of her life.

"Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country," Clinton began. "I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, and I'm sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country."

Although Clinton said the election results showed "that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought," she called on her supporters to accept the will of the voters and "accept this result and look to the future."

"Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead," Clinton said. She highlighted the importance of a peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations, saying, "We don't just respect that. We cherish it."

Her most poignant comments were directed toward young people, particularly young women. 

"To the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this," Clinton said. "I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I've had successes and I've had setbacks. Sometimes, really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

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She continued, "To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion."

Clinton's speech was gracious and humble, while simultaneously solidifying the harsh reality that she had failed once again to win the nation's highest office. 

After her remarks, Clinton spent about half an hour working a rope line in front of the stage, greeting old friends and posing for teary selfies with her staff. Senior advisers wandered aimlessly through the room, their eyes red and puffy. A sudden crush of television cameras and reporters drove her from the floor and back behind the curtain.

Some friends and staffers lingered behind in the ballroom, saying goodbye and consoling one another. Just like that, it was over.