Patti Solis Doyle, a nationally recognized political organizer and campaign strategist for former Democratic president candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, got personal about her relationship with Clinton and her own political journey at a Yale College Democrats event on Wednesday night.
“She’s been wearing pantsuits since the day I met her.”
Roughly 30 students attended the conversation in William L. Harkness Hall hosted by the Yale College Democrats and moderated by Yale Dems Elections Coordinator Molly Shapiro ’21, with allotted time for audience questions at the end.
Doyle described her first meeting with Clinton — back in 1991 when her husband, Bill Clinton, was the governor of Arkansas. Doyle believed that she would be working for then-governor Bill Clinton, but quickly discovered she would be working for his wife, she said.
“I had heard rumors that she was way too opinionated and didn’t know what she was doing. But when I met her for that first five minutes –– she was just very cool,” Doyle said about Clinton.
Doyle described her surprise when Hillary Clinton provided her then-11-year-old daughter’s soccer schedule and insisted that her campaigning schedule accommodate those games. Doyle also described Clinton’s love for her staff, her “book smarts” and her temperament.
Doyle attributed Clinton’s cautiousness to the constant attacks on her and husband and “30 years of scrutiny –– the likes of which I hope you will never see.”
The conversation then shifted to Doyle’s own role in Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. As the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign, Doyle noted the disapproval of fellow campaign leaders, who advocated for hiring a more “experienced person.”
“I wanted to win, but people around me — the media, the D.C. talking heads — were like, not just a woman running the campaign of the first woman running for president but a Hispanic woman. And when I started reading coverage of it, I got spooked. I was like, do I have to start carrying the weight of all the Hispanic women in the country? But it made me want to succeed even more.”
Later in the conversation, Doyle described the challenges she faced growing up in Chicago as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. This made her departure from Clinton’s 2008 campaign all the more devastating.
“I felt like I let not just Hillary down, not just my staff, but Hispanic Latinas everywhere,” she said.
According to Doyle, Clinton’s campaign staff made several “stupid mistakes” as they grappled with how they would present Clinton in the early days of the campaign. Doyle describes choosing to pull Clinton off the campaign trail in response to attacks from the media and arranging visits to kindergartens in an attempt to soften her image.
“I take the blame for creating a bad first impression when she was First Lady,” Doyle said. “The media didn’t know how to deal with her, and we didn’t know how to deal with the media. It took us several years to realize what she needed to do was be herself.”
Doyle described “seriously considering going into retail” after her departure from the Clinton campaign. However, she later agreed to join Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign as the chief of staff for then-vice presidential nominee Joe Biden. When asked what she learned from the incident, Doyle gave the following remarks.
“You’re definitely going to fail, and you definitely have the right to cry for a little bit. But then life goes on, and you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. You have to be kind and fair to the people that you meet along the way because those people are going to save you when you fail.”
Several Yale students who attended the event said they felt inspired by Doyle’s discussion of her upbringing and political involvement.
Yehya Elkrish ’22 said he felt connected to her story about growing up in a traditional home.
Another student, Esther Reyes ’21, said she was not planning on attending the conversation, but was glad she came.
“As a first generation, low-income woman, myself, daughter of Mexican immigrants, hearing her talk, I was like –– wow, it’s possible. It was so affirming to be in that space with her.”
The event wrapped up with a question and answer session, in which Doyle discussed the Green New Deal, the Chicago mayoral election and Virginia’s political climate. She also answered questions about the women serving in Congress.
“They are the future of the party without a question. They’re not just women. They’re black women, Muslim women, Hispanic women –– they represent our country, and they’re not afraid. All of them are there to do their job, and I am so hopeful,” she said.
Reflecting on the talk, Shapiro, Yale Dems elections coordinator, said that she found Doyle inspirational “not only because she succeeded, but also because she failed. It was a pleasure to get to interview her.”
Since working on the Obama campaign, Doyle has been a CNN political contributor and a winter fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. She is also president of Solis Strategies, a communications firm serving nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and corporations, and frequently speaks on the rise of women and minorities in politics.
Maya Vaknin | firstname.lastname@example.org