The former head of communications for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Jennifer Palmieri, has some surprising advice for potential female presidents: Don’t be afraid to cry.
In her new book, Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World, out March 27, Palmieri describes how Clinton and her team survived one of the most vicious elections in American history with grit and stoicism. But the former Clinton campaign official now questions whether this was the best strategy.
Now that she’s had time to reflect, Palmieri says her best advice to future female presidents is: “Let’s nod less and cry more.”
“We were trying to present with these qualities that you’re used to seeing in a male president: That she’s strong enough, that she can handle national security, that she’s tough enough that Donald Trump can come after her and try to humiliate her and she’s never going to let it show,” Palmieri told NPR in an interview on Tuesday. “And I think she had to do that. I do think that the first woman nominee had to prove that she could do the job the way a man would, but that robbed her of a lot of her own authenticity.”
In the campaign, crying jags happened so frequently — “at least once a day,” Palmieri writes — that her room in the Clinton White House press office became known as “the crying room.” There the press staff, both women and men, would cry “when they needed to let some of the stress out.”
But shows of emotion should not be reserved for behind closed doors; Palmieri says it’s possible to cry and still be “great in a crisis.”
“The American public that elects you will already know you are strong, so if you sometimes tear up in public, it may help normalize the practice and make other women less reluctant to cry in the workplace,” Palmieri writes. “And make sure your White House has a crying room. It’s our world and we should be able to cry in it if we want to.”
Clinton herself has proven the power of showing her softer side.
In her first presidential bid in 2008, Clinton’s candidacy got a boost when the notoriously guarded former first lady unexpectedly teared up at a campaign event in New Hampshire.
“How did you get out the door every day? I mean, as a woman, I know how hard it is to get out of the house and get ready,” a voter asked at the coffee shop event. “Who does your hair?” After cracking a few jokes, Clinton paused for several seconds as her eyes welled up with tears, and finally said, “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation. I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to reverse it.”
The rare moment of vulnerability would help Clinton win the New Hampshire primary.
In Clinton’s second presidential campaign, Palmieri writes that projecting strength helped Clinton and her team survive difficult times (such as the reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server just days before the 2016 election, or the release of her controversial Wall Street speeches).
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But that strategy was also detrimental to the campaign, Palmieri writes. At one point, the aide pushed herself so hard that she landed in the hospital because of exhaustion and dehydration.
“OMG. WHERE ARE YOU? WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?” Palmieri says Clinton texted her in all-capital letters. “PLEASE DO WHATEVER THE DOCTORS TELL YOU TO DO! YOUR HEALTH IS TOO IMPORTANT!”
A week later, Palmieri writes that Clinton came down with pneumonia. Palmieri told the presidential hopeful to follow her own advice — but she didn’t.
“Like most women. We nod the next time we get some bad news and keep going,” the author explains.
This mindset is problematic, Palmieri says, because women are no longer operating in a “man’s world.” It’s a woman’s world now, she writes, and it’s time to change the “way this game is played.”
“Madam President, I have a suggestion for two new guidelines all women can adopt in the workplace to make it better suited to our qualities,” she writes. “Let’s nod less and cry more.”
Dear Madam President hits bookshelves on March 27.