When Hillary Clinton first learned she’d lost the presidency in 2016, she did not appear shocked. She didn’t react in sadness, or perplexion, or anger. She felt defeated. “I knew it. I knew this would happen to me,” she said. “They were never going to let me be president.”
This is, at least, according to the final pages of Amy Chozick’s Chasing Hillary, the latest in a long line of anticipated 2016 presidential race tell-alls. Chozick worked the “Hillary beat” for a decade, culminating in her following Clinton’s doomed 2016 campaign for the New York Times. She juxtaposes the job with her own development as a political reporter: her initial struggles upon moving to New York, her ascension at the Wall Street Journal, her decision to freeze her eggs and hit pause on her personal life after learning she’d be chasing Clinton around the country, again. In effect, she reveals how politics becomes personal.
An enduring national obsession surrounds Hillary Clinton. On one partisan side, there remains some talk of her impending prosecution. On the other, an unhealthy mix of infighting and longing, resentment and guilt, continues to animate the debate over how best to move forward. Op-eds paradoxically ask Clinton to “get out of the way” while perpetuating her imperious cultural presence. Her approval ratings, bizarrely, remain a point of intrigue, even though she’s no longer holding public office.
In the context of our enduring fixation, Chasing Hillary reads like a surprisingly intimate campaign memoir. Even the perspective of its author is politicized: Chozick, after all, writes for an outlet that’s long faced accusations of antagonistic, ruthless coverage toward the Clintons. The pretense of objectivity is done away with. Chozick can only write what she saw and how she saw it. She can only give us her version of the candidate and what the candidate went through. It just so happens that Chozick had a closer view than the rest of us.
Unusually, it is Chozick’s own, admitted obsession with Hillary Clinton which lends her book not just credibility but gravity. Having been on the front lines, Chozick has a keen understanding of the current political climate. She grasps the power of obsession in today’s politics and doesn’t pretend to be immune; rather, she crafts a compelling narrative out of her own biases and experiences that reads like a juicy but insightful novel. At times, she comes up short when it comes to honest reflection on the big themes, such as the Times‘ role in inflaming the Clinton email server controversy. (Chozick admits to “resenting” the way it became such a dominant story, but then repeatedly, defensively argues why it was.) But Chozick thrives at bringing campaign shenanigans down to a human level, such as when she snapshots the Clinton team drowning in minutiae: jokes rewritten so many times that every ounce of humor is squeezed out, intra-staff arguments about the optics of chicken-wing-eating.
Chasing Hillary succeeds because, unlike so many recent tell-alls which have purported to shed light, Chozick relishes the incendiary. She says Hillary Clinton “hated” her; she’s convinced Clinton’s male press aides wanted to “destroy” her; she dubs Bill Clinton an egomaniac so self-centered he could even make the “biggest night of Hillary’s life” about himself. The dramatics resonate. Incendiary fits this moment. It’s what readers are feeling, and what those reeling from 2016 — Chozick among them — can’t help but bring into their lives.
Right down to that muted election-night line — “They were never going to let me be president” — Chozick observes Clinton critically but in admiration. Their relationship is richly complex, if mostly unspoken: a fascinating portrait of two brilliant, wounded women unknowingly headed for a collision course. The tension between them escalates in a way that satisfyingly, dispiritingly mirrors the journey the country took through a senseless election season. As in James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty or Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, there are startling revelations sprinkled in about political figures, such as Trump or Clinton, who’ve assumed outsize levels of celebrity and controversy over the years. But Chozick has nothing to defend, really — her insecurities are laid bare. The masochistic thrill of reliving 2016 serves a greater truth here about what we’re left with after such a historically ugly shift in power and norms. In its emotional messiness, Chozick’s story commands nuance. Politics is personal, and the personal is never clear-cut. B+