It’s hard to say where the Clintons go from here.
The smiling, some say gracious, Hillary Rodham Clinton who faced her supporters Saturday to finally, belatedly and reluctantly endorse Barack Obama masked a political animal seething with anger, feeling betrayal from the Democratic political power structure she and her former President husband once ruled.
For nearly four decades, the Clintons have defied the odds, winning in the face of diversity and confounding the experts with their determination while angering even their staunchest allies with unbridled ruthlessness and an almost gleeful desire to plunge the knife of revenge into those they feel wronged them.
Sources close to both say Bill Clinton is angrier than his wife and vows to get even with the Democratic elite he feels deserted both of them when they still had a change to knock off the upstart young Senator from Illinois.
The Clintons may be down but opponents who underestimated them in the past know they are never out and comebacks are a Clinton specialty.
Writes Thomas Harris in The Politico:
Bill Clinton’s opponents believed so single-mindedly in his character defects that they were blind to what most Americans by the end of his presidency saw as his supreme character virtue: His determination to never give up, his implacable willingness to dust off and fight again from political setbacks and personal embarrassments.
Hillary Clinton showed the same character in 2008. This was particularly true from March on, when she kept fighting (and often winning) even in the face of jeering from media commentators and party leaders. The race showed what she probably always knew: She shares and even surpasses his drive to win but not his almost mystical ability to prevail in the end.
For Bill Clinton, the supreme challenge will be to face what is clearly his anger over the outcome of his wife’s campaign and the way they both were treated by both their party and the press. His worst moments in both private and public life have always flowed from his sense of grievance.
Those who know the Clintons best remind us that both are dangerous when they feel cornered.
As John M. Broder and Robin Toner write in The New York Times:
Bill and Hillary Clinton have stirred virulent passions in their nearly two decades in the national spotlight. They have been known as many things, good and bad — brilliant policy analysts, manipulators of facts and friends, tireless campaigners, skillful political tacticians, monumentally self-absorbed baby boomers. But most of all they were known as winners.
The Clintons often seemed out of touch with the political times — cautious when they should have been bold, negative when they should have been inspirational. Exquisitely attuned to the political winds in 1992, they watched Mr. Obama almost effortlessly master the changed environment of 2008.
Mr. Clinton, forever a riddle as a man and a public figure, was seen by many at the beginning of his wife’s campaign as a political genius, a statesman and a racial healer who had done much through his charitable work to erase the stigma of his impeachment for lying about an affair with a young White House aide and other personal sins. But his conduct during his wife’s campaign, right up to a blistering tirade against a magazine writer last week, raised new questions about his judgment and blotted his legacy.
If Mr. Obama wins…the era of Clinton dominance of the Democratic Party will be over. “They will no longer be leaders of the party, and their role, especially his, will be much diminished,” said Alan Brinkley, historian and provost at Columbia University. “Bill Clinton has been head of the party for 16 years, literally and informally. Now there will be someone else.”
Or maybe not.