Hillary Clinton’s presence will be the subject of great interest as Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office on Friday at the Capitol.
It is believed that watchful cameras are set to catch any reflexive moment of pain or frustration on Clinton’s face as she watches a man whom she plainly disdains, sworn into the nation’s highest office — a job she had been favored to win.
Clinton and her team were confident she would be the next president until the results began rolling in on the night of the election.
Sharpening the human drama even more are allegations from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia intervened in the campaign to help Trump.
Those allegations, as well as Trump’s own controversial behavior, has fueled the decision by around 70 House Democrats to boycott the inauguration. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights hero, said Trump would not be a legitimate president.
Democratic strategists who spoke to The Hill expressed admiration for Clinton’s willingness to attend, given how agonizing the event is sure to be for her.
“I think it takes a lot to show up in that situation after the kind of campaign that was run against her [by Trump],” said Tad Devine, who worked as a senior advisor to Clinton’s main primary challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Devine noted how Trump’s crowds had chanted “Lock her up!” in reference to Clinton at campaign rallies.
“Her opponent encouraged people to want to put her in jail, and to question her in a fundamental way, “ he said, adding that Clinton’s attendance “is testament to her strength of character. I really think she should be praised.”
Devine, and others, viewed Clinton’s decision to attend as an important marker smoothing the transition of power, especially when so many others are unreconciled to Trump’s election.
Clinton’s presence at the inauguration is not necessarily a rebuke to those who have boycotted the ceremony. But it is a powerful symbolic gesture of her acceptance of the election’s outcome.
“Certainly she will feel disappointed, but it is very important that she attend because it is a signal to people that the system of government works,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic strategist who has worked with Clinton in the past but did not do so during her most recent campaign. “Her appearance is a way of endorsing democracy.”
He added, “It is a very classy thing to do. It speaks well of her and her character, despite what her detractors might like to intimate. She has absolutely no gain here.”
Clinton will be making the high-profile appearance with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Every living former president is expected to attend the inauguration with the exception of the elderly George H.W. Bush, who has been hospitalized.
Hillary Clinton has remained mostly out of the public eye since losing the bitter election, with even chance encounters between her and random strangers earning airtime and headlines.
In recent years, it has been the usual custom — but not a universally observed one — for the vanquished candidate in a presidential election to attend the inauguration of the winner.
Mitt Romney did not attend President Obama’s second swearing-in in Jan. 2013. But, four years before, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was present for Obama’s first inauguration. Then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and outgoing Vice President Al Gore attended President George W. Bush’s inaugurations after he beat them in the 2004 and 2000 election respectively.
Some observers draw parallels between Gore’s decision to accept Bush’s victory following a deeply controversial Supreme Court decision and Clinton’s attendance at Trump’s inauguration.
Devine said that Gore “demonstrated his respect for the rule of law, and he strengthened it in America at a very fragile time. I think we are in a time like that right now.”
Another Democratic strategist, Evan Stavisky, suggested that Gore could have some sense of the emotions that will be churning within Clinton on Friday.
“There are very few people who can sympathize with Hillary Clinton right now, and are still alive, other than Al Gore. Most people can’t even pretend to know.”
Any interaction between Trump and Clinton, however brief, will draw particular scrutiny. The same goes for any meeting between the president-elect and Bill Clinton, who campaigned vigorously on his wife’s behalf and sometimes found himself in Trump’s crosshairs.
The couple have experienced tumultuous turns in fortune, both privately and politically, over the years. But Friday’s inauguration will rank high among them.
Hillary Clinton “is a woman who has had an extraordinary life with lots of ups and downs,” said Sheinkopf. “She has adjusted well to some of the most dramatic moments in American public life. Hillary Clinton is one tough cookie.”