Hillary Clinton’s election defeat had many pundits declaring the Clinton era finally over. But a series of meetings with key Democratic donors and leaders – combined with still-fawning press coverage and even a quirky social media project driven by a longtime aide – are raising questions about what's next.
A return to the speaking circuit? Advocacy work? Assuming the role of elder stateswoman? Or even, a 2020 presidential run?
“I think if she wants to run again, and my guess is she probably does, because they always do, then yes I think she’s doing a good job laying the groundwork,” Brad Bannon, Democratic strategist and CEO of Bannon Communications Research, told FoxNews.com.
A third presidential run -- after two grueling campaigns that both ended in defeat to a rival political sensation who captured the imagination of voters -- could be a stretch for the former secretary of state, senator and first lady.
But after a brief period of reclusion, Clinton is slowly but surely appearing more in public, and in ways that indicate a political and public future of some sort.
One clue that her team wants to keep its cachet with millennials is the viral sensation surrounding pictures of her spotted by her Chappaqua home -- in the woods, at the grocery store and elsewhere. The Twitter account @HRCInTheWild was created to track those appearances; the account was set up by longtime Clinton aide Adam Parkhomenko.
Parkhomenko is no random staffer – he created the Ready for Hillary PAC to draft her to run and was director of grassroots engagement for the 2016 campaign. His Twitter account is littered with personal letters from Clinton and photos with the candidate. Parkhomenko is such a significant player in ClintonWorld that in January The Washington Post published a lengthy profile of him.
"When you're knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on." -Hillary pic.twitter.com/53JRNck89B— HRC In The Wild 🌲 (@HRCintheWild) December 5, 2016
Parkhomenko told FoxNews.com the Twitter account has nothing to do with the campaign, which he says wound down in November. He says instead it was a request from supporters and he happily obliged.
“These photos have put a huge smile on her supporters' face and I think it has really pushed them to get back up and keep going after a devastating presidential loss. It has been incredible to watch the account grow,” he said.
If, as Parkhomenko says, it is a response to supporters, then it has been wildly successful. The account, which had only been up for a few weeks, has over 27,000 followers on Twitter as well as countless likes and retweets, as well as corresponding accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
Saturday Night Live even did a light sketch on the “in the wild” phenomenon. Meanwhile, days after Vanity Fair described Clinton’s appearances a move “from Presidential Candidate to Wandering Folk Hero,” the New York Times used similar language Sunday, calling her “a new folk hero in a familiar face” for some Americans.
“After the knock-down, drag-out battle of the campaign, the images suggest she has, unexpectedly, found peace,” the piece reads.
Clinton indeed continues to enjoy favorable press coverage despite her upset defeat. Even as Time magazine declared Donald Trump its person of the year this week, the write-up on Clinton in the same edition compared her to “an American Moses.”
Clinton's team also has not exited the limelight quietly.
Campaign manager Robby Mook last week blamed the loss in part on FBI Director James Comey’s decision to re-open the probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Meanwhile, Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s director of communication, accused Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway of having given a platform to white supremacists, and followed it up with a barbed op-ed in The Washington Post, calling on the Trump campaign to “own up” to how it won. (Conway told "Fox & Friends" on Friday that "a little self-awareness would do for a team that is blaming everybody but themselves.")
Clinton herself drew attention Wednesday to what she called an “epidemic” of so-called “fake news” – which some pundits and supporters have claimed contributed to her defeat. It also was blamed for a gunman visiting a D.C. pizza restaurant over the weekend looking for answers on a Clinton-related conspiracy theory.
"It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences," Clinton said in a speech at the Capitol.
Clinton was in D.C. to pay tribute to retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. While Reid is stepping down from his role, he is likely to remain as an elder statesman whose 2020 endorsement would hold value. Additionally, The New York Post reported Wednesday that Clinton is set to throw a party next week to thank her millionaire donors.
Some strategists believe the actions may point to at least a consideration of a run in 2020.
“It’s the Potomac Fever -- if you get close to being president, you can’t get the smell off, and you’re always going to want to do it again,” Bannon said.
Parkhomenko said whatever Clinton chooses to do, “her supporters will be there to support her and help amplify her message. As we can see, she never sits still and I can't imagine she will not remain active in whatever she way she thinks she can continue to have the most impact for good.”
Clinton’s lead in the popular vote, which supporters have been touting, gives her camp an argument that Clinton at least wasn’t rejected by voters in a McGovern-like defeat, and if Trump’s presidency stumbles, a do-over of 2016 may appeal to some. However, Bannon warned such a call could turn off many Democratic Party activists.
“While I’m sure Clinton is thinking that way, I’m not sure it’s going to work,” he said. “With both [Vice President Joe] Biden and Clinton, they’re going to be pretty old by then, and what I’m hearing in conversations I’ve had with people in the Democratic Party is everyone really wants a new face.”