Throughout her run for president in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a pretty frequent visitor to Philadelphia, as part of her ultimately futile quest to win Pennsylvania. The Democratic National Convention, of course, took place at the Wells Fargo Center, and the Democratic nominee, along with her husband, President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, held a mega-rally on Independence Mall on election eve.
Thursday night, a little more than a year after her shocking loss to President Donald Trump, Secretary Clinton returned to Philly for a promotional event at the Academy of Music for her campaign memoir, What Happened. At the event, which was sold-out but not quite full, with an audience about two-thirds female, Clinton was interviewed on-stage by Philly native and best-selling author Jennifer Weiner.
Clinton discussed a lot of the themes that she’s touched on in previous interviews for the book: Overcoming adversity, opposing the Trump Administration, and coming to grips with all of the things that went wrong for her in the 2016 vote.
She also addressed the recent wave of sexual harassment scandals – and even fended off a heckler who taunted her about the debunked "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory.
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Her fiery response to the latter led to, roughly, one of four standing ovations throughout the evening.
“As a person, I’m okay,” Clinton said. “As an American, I’m very concerned.”
She assailed the Republican tax reform bill, which was being debated in the U.S. Senate as she spoke, while also having negative things to say about the President’s temperament and Twitter behavior.
When it came to the forces that she felt contributed to the election result in 2016, Clinton checked off everything from Russian interference to the James Comey letter to an unfair news media to voter suppression efforts. (She didn’t take a lot of the blame herself Thursday, although she admitted she certainly does do so in the book.)
“We got a great vote in Philadelphia,” Clinton said, noting that she had also performed well in Pittsburgh as well as other traditionally Democratic parts of the state. But, she said, her 28-point lead in the Philadelphia suburbs whittled down to the final margin of 13 following the Comey letter, leading to her defeat in the Pennsylvania, and ultimately, the election.
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When it came to sexism and the media, it was Weiner who brought up the elephant in the room, reading out a section of What Happened about the September 2016 Commander-in-Chief Forum on NBC, in which the host separately interviewed both candidates but was notably tougher on Clinton than Trump. That host? Matt Lauer.
“Every day I believe more in karma,” Clinton said to that, referring further to several “men who shaped the narrative” during the campaign who have since been sidelined in the wave of sexual harassment scandals.
“The only way we will get sexism out of politics is to get more women in politics,” she said, adding that she has encouraged many young women to get involved with politics, sometimes by running for office themselves. Clinton also declared that “I resign from being Fox News’ president,” noting the absurdity of personalities on the news network continuing to rail against her for hours each day, even with the election long over and someone else in the White House.
While there were no protesters visible outside the venue, a heckler rose in his upper-deck seat near the end of the event and shouted “Pizzagate is real!,” in reference to the long-ago-debunked conspiracy theory about Clinton and other Democratic leaders supposedly running a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria.
The man, who was escorted out of the auditorium and later seen talking with Secret Service agents, was recognized by a PhillyVoice photographer as Howard Caplan, a local man known for holding “Hillary for Prison” and “Pizzagate is Real” signs on Roosevelt Boulevard and at local political events. Caplan has made news for a series of incidents in the last two years, including his storming of the Christmas Mass at The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul last year, and his having been assaulted at a protest demonstration last summer.
Clinton responded to the interruption with a righteous rant against the Pizzagate theory – "This is how deep the rot goes” – which noted that a man had opened fire in the pizzeria while trying to rescue “children” supposedly hidden in the restaurant’s allegedly nonexistent basement.
In addition to politics, Weiner asked Clinton about cooking, her grandchildren, how her Thanksgiving was, and even about whether she looks forward more to taking off makeup or Spanx at the end of a long day.
At one point early in the evening, Clinton launched into an extended coughing fit, the kind of thing that tended to lead to theories during the campaign that the candidate was concealing some sort of illness. Weiner attempted to fill the time by making a self-deprecating joke about her own last name, but knowing that Clinton’s history with a man of that particular surname is what led to the notorious Comey Letter, she may have not found it so funny.
Clinton is something of a divisive figure, and has been such for going on three decades. But with one exception, there was no divided reception Thursday night – among a theater full of people who paid hundreds of dollars to see the first female presidential nominee in Philadelphia one more time.