For months during the caustic election cycle that was 2016, it did not even seem like a realistic possibility that Hillary Clinton would not secure the White House. The polls and projections indicated strongly that it would be so; Even the GOP establishment largely disengaged from its candidate, Donald Trump. But the morning after a stunning upset, Clinton recounted in her concession speech how she had called the new president-elect and "offered to work with him on behalf of our country." This admission doesn't necessarily suggest that Hillary Clinton will return to politics, but it does provide the tenuous hope that some are desperately seeking right now, as the prospect of a Trump presidency gels into a nearly unthinkable reality.
To the shock of so many — from Clinton's most fervent supporters to the journalists and pundits of the mainstream media against which Trump has so often railed — the American people as a whole did not elect their first-ever Madam President Tuesday, and it's now likely that Clinton will never earn that title. She just turned 69, and would have been the second-oldest president ever to take office had she won, making a 2020 run implausible, though not impossible, based on her age alone.
But that does not mean that Hillary Clinton is out of the political picture for good.
Of course, the longtime public servant has been laser-focused on her presidential bid since at least last year. She's talked a lot about exactly what she would do upon entering the Oval Office as commander-in-chief, like advocating to prevent gun violence, strengthening domestic manufacturing, and more fully supporting veterans. Obviously, she did not publicly dwell on her alternate trajectory if she were to lose to Trump. One rare instance of that was in a September interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis, when she jokingly said she "would try to prevent [Trump] from destroying the United States" if he were to prevail over her in the election.
But by early Wednesday, it was undeniable that that precise, no-longer-hypothetical situation had manifested, and Clinton was much more introspective in considering her path forward. "Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time," she told her demoralized supporters in her concession speech. "So let's do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear."
For Clinton — a onetime senator, FLOTUS, and Secretary of State — advancing important causes and values could mean committing herself to the nonprofit she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, established together 19 years ago. The Clinton Foundation emerged as a controversial issue during the campaign season as Clinton's critics raised concerns that its donors had contributed to earn government favors while she was secretary of state. The scrutiny has likely passed along with Clinton's defeat, so perhaps it can again be synonymous with tackling issues related to global health and wellness, climate change, economic development, and improving opportunities for girls and women.
It's certainly possible that Clinton could opt to address the issues that were so important to her both as a presidential candidate and in the nonprofit realm through elected office, as well. With this round of elections so fresh, she'll have some time before she needs to begin campaigning for a seat in the House or Senate, or even a higher office, such as governor of New York. As much as it would be a potential balm to the frayed nerves of liberals unsettled by the fact that Republicans control Congress in addition to the Oval Office, it seems far-fetched that Clinton could score a Cabinet position in the Trump administration — or that she would even want one.
Wherever Clinton goes from here, her candidacy as the first female nominee of a major party — and one who won the popular vote, if not the Electoral College, no less — is historic and meaningful to little girls and boys who witnessed it. For Clinton to remain in the political sphere would be just further evidence of her incredible grit and tenacity, two undeniably presidential qualities, and ones that should still make her supporters proud of her legacy.