Former campaign manager talks about Hillary Clinton, life in an immigrant family

Patti Solis Doyle speaks at Harkness Hall on Feb. 13. (Photo credit: Will Wang)
Patti Solis Doyle (left) speaks at Harkness Hall on Feb. 13. (Photo credit: Will Wang)

Losing in politics is inevitable, political organizer Patti Solis Doyle told a crowd of 25 Yale College students on Feb. 13. She knows it herself — she ran Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid until then-Sen. Barack Obama won three of the first four Democratic primary contests, after which, she says, she was publicly ousted in a “humiliating fashion.”

But after you finish crying in bed and gulping down ice cream, Solis Doyle continued, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

The event, which was co-hosted by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism and the Yale College Democrats, took place in William L. Harkness Hall and featured both a classic interview of Solis Doyle by Yale College Democrats elections coordinator Molly Shapiro and a question-and-answer session with the audience.

I thought life as I knew it was over,” Solis Doyle said of her being fired from the Clinton campaign. “I was never going to get another job, I would have to figure out what else I could do … And I’m serious, my kids needed breakfast one day, and my husband, who is a fantastic partner, was traveling, and I had to get up and give them breakfast and I had to drive them to school.”

Solis Doyle is the first Hispanic woman to ever lead a presidential campaign and has known Clinton for almost 30 years. She said that when she agreed to join a little-known Arkansas governor’s presidential run in 1992, she didn’t expect to be working under his wife. But despite negative rumors she heard about Clinton, Solis Doyle found the future Secretary of State “brilliant,” “hilarious” and caring toward her staff.

The media never figured out how to properly cover Clinton, and she and the rest of Clinton’s staff never figured out how to respond, Solis Doyle added. As a First Lady, Clinton was extensively involved in determining White House policy stances and Cabinet nominations, an unprecedented role that Solis Doyle viewed as contributing to constant attacks on her. One day, Clinton got a haircut and it made “international news,” Solis Doyle said.

[Clinton] grew up in politics in a time where … she was being attacked on a daily basis,” Solis Doyle said. “She developed this very guarded exterior when she was on in public … What came across on television, through the media, on the campaign trail was this very sort-of stiff person, a very cautious, risk-averse person, and that’s not who she is in private.”

Solis Doyle also touched on her experience as a daughter of Mexican immigrants and first-generation college student. Her parents had a limited education — her dad reached 3rd grade, her mother 6th — and she had to learn English from her 1st-grade classes and Sesame Street, Solis Doyle said. She added that she admired what her parents did for her and her siblings, calling immigrants coming to the United States to give their children a better life than they had “the bravest thing a parent can do.”

Going to Northwestern University in the 1980s and having a wildly different background from her classmates was “extremely isolating,” Solis Doyle said. With her classmates talking about going to Vail Ski Resort in Colorado over the weekend, she felt there wasn’t anybody around who dressed or talked or acted like her.

I was raised very Catholic and very Mexican … I wasn’t allowed to leave the house other than to go to school and then come home, and then go to church and then come home. I was raised as a nun, basically,” Solis Doyle said. “I was not supposed to go to college; I was supposed to get married and have babies and raise a family. And my mother said to me — and I’m not kidding you — she said to me, ‘You are light-skinned enough and pretty enough to marry a white guy. Why on Earth would you want to go to college?’”

In a response to a question about current political turmoil in Virginia, Solis Doyle called on Governor Ralph Northam and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax to resign from office. Earlier in February, Northam’s medical school yearbook page was found to have a picture of a man in blackface and a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Though Northam has denied being in the photo, he has admitted to wearing blackface in the past. Fairfax has faced sexual assault allegations from two women.

As the party that advocates for diversity and inclusion, Solis Doyle said, Democrats can’t tolerate behavior like Northam’s. She also called the accusations against Fairfax “credible.”

Solis Doyle praised U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her work on the Green New Deal, an expansive policy proposal to fight climate change in the United States and promote economic equity for marginalized groups. However, she warned candidates against fully endorsing the deal, saying that there’s still uncertainty surrounding the Green New Deal’s details, which could turn off potential Democratic voters.

Solis Doyle is a CNN contributor and founder of Solis Strategies, a communications firm.

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