29-Jun, 08:57

22:57, October 21 122 0

2016-10-21 22:57:16
Debate-Watching With Hillary Clinton’s BFFs

CHICAGO — Donald J. Trump had just called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” and Mrs. Clinton’s childhood girlfriends started laughing. “I’m so glad he said that,” one friend said. “He just couldn’t stop himself,” another said.

The group was piled onto couches, a few of them seated on the floor, crowded around a television for the final presidential debate at the home of Hardye Moel, a psychotherapist who met Hillary Rodham as freshmen at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, a quiet upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago.

There was pizza, wine and popcorn; and Betsy Ebeling, Mrs. Clinton’s best friend since the sixth grade, was providing to-the-moment updates from a friend who was on the floor in Las Vegas — “seated behind Wayne Newton!” she announced.

For a group watching their best friend appear on stage, just two weeks from Election Day, they were surprisingly calm.

What was it like, watching her up there? I wanted to know. Were they nervous? And it wasn’t that they were unfazed. Perhaps it was just that they had been through this before.

“For me, it’s a nice distraction to have everybody here,” said Ms. Moel, in a patterned shift dress adorned with blue “Hillary 2016” buttons. “For some reason this time, as soon as she walked out tonight, I felt really confident. I just thought, ‘Yes, girl. You can do this.’”

“Girl” is a term this group uses liberally. When Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Trump a puppet — when pressed on Russia — there were exclamations of “You go, girl!” from the living room.

These women have, in fact, known Mrs. Clinton since she was a girl. They came of age together: bicycling to movies, arguing about which Beatle was the cutest; attending church; going to see Martin Luther King Jr. speak for the first time.

They were present for Mrs. Clinton’s first devastating political defeat, and they remember it clearly: It was student council president, in their senior year, and a girl had never won.

“I was her campaign manager, so I advised her,” Ms. Ebeling has joked. “Hopefully this one turns out better.”

As a group, the women have been to each of the Bill Clinton inaugurations and the opening of the Clinton library; they were there for her Senate run, when she was sworn in as secretary of state and at plenty of dinners, events and weddings.

When Hillary was first lady, Ms. Ebeling would on occasion meet her at the White House, where Mrs. Clinton would put on a hat and sunglasses, and the two would sneak out for a walk and coffee, undisturbed. They were there during the dark times, too: Monica Lewinsky, the impeachment, the emails.

“My friends are from grade school and high school, and they are incredibly honest with me,” she told The Chicago Tribune in 1996. “There is no evidence whatsoever that they are in awe of me, and sometimes I wish they were.”

The women — a dozen or so in all — plan to travel to New York City on Election Day to support their friend. They campaigned in Iowa in 2008 — on a bus, during a snowstorm, at one point stuck on an icy incline. “There was a moment when we thought we might not make it,” Ms. Moel said. When Mrs. Clinton lost the nomination, she had a pendant engraved for Ms. Ebeling that read: “18 million cracks in the ceiling.”

These days, the friends’ interactions are more contained. Ms. Ebeling is the unofficial conduit, giving updates, letting Mrs. Clinton know if there has been a death in the family, reminding her of birthdays, sending her articles from their hometown paper. In July, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Ms. Ebeling. a delegate from Illinois, announced the vote totals for their home state, her voice breaking slightly when she read them.

“On this historic, wonderful day, in honor of Dorothy and Hugh’s daughter and my sweet friend — I know you’re watching — this one’s for you, Hill,” Ms. Ebeling said. Her friends were in the audience, a couple of them in matching red, white and blue sneakers they’d bought at Target.

Before declaring her candidacy for president in 2007, Mrs. Clinton described herself as “probably the most famous person you don’t really know.” It was striking coming from someone who has lived most of her life in the public eye, and yet that has long been one of the most common criticisms lodged against her: that she is aloof, unrelatable, cold.

Her friends say the opposite. “It’s a twisted version of Hillary that we see portrayed,” Ms. Moel said. “I’ve just been thinking a lot lately, what is it about powerful women that people don’t like, that is problematic for a lot of people?”

“They don’t know enough to know what they don’t like about her,” said Ms. Ebeling.

The real Hillary, they say, is warm, nurturing, loyal and funny. She loves hot sauce and always keeps a bottle in her purse. Emails are a dirty word now, but among those released, you’ll find Mrs. Clinton wishing Ms. Ebeling and her pals a “Happy Halloween from Angkor Wat!” and “Love and scones” from London, where she had spent a night at Buckingham Palace. She gushes about having to concentrate while on stage with Chelsea, during a Clinton Global Initiative plenary in 2011, to avoid “acting like a total goofball Mother overcome by pride and struck dumb!”

She’s also, her friends say, a great problem solver and an excellent listener. And she has stamina, too — an amount unmatched by any of her friends.

“Bonnie and I talk too much on the phone,” said Ms. Moel, seated next to Bonnie Ward Klehr, a jewelry designer whose pieces can often be seen on Mrs. Clinton. “And so often at the end of the day we’re like, ‘I’m so tired.’ ‘Oh, my God, I have to go to bed at 8:30!’ And then we talk about Hillary and we always say, ‘How does she do it?’ Even if she wasn’t a friend, just for a person our age, it’s just amazing.”

“You know,” Ms. Ebeling said, “if Hillary were here, we’d be laughing, we’d be joking about our …” she pinches the skin underneath her biceps. “But she can’t do that now.”

“But tonight,” she said on Wednesday, “our friend did beautifully.”