Over 2,500 people packed the ballroom of the new Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown Houston Friday afternoon to see one of Hillary Clinton’s rare public appearances since losing the presidential election in November. The occasion was a fundraiser for Annie’s List, the Texas political organization dedicated to electing pro-choice politicians, and Clinton told the crowd that it was impossible for her to stay away.
“When I was back walking in the woods, I got an invitation to this event,” Clinton joked, referring to the much-publicized nature hikes she took to recuperate from her electoral defeat. “I found it under a rock. And I thought, wow, what could make anyone feel better than going to Houston to support Annie’s List?”
Before making her scheduled remarks, however, Clinton said she felt compelled to weigh in on the Syrian missile strike President Donald Trump ordered on Thursday. The crowd groaned audibly, but Clinton, who pushed for stronger action against Syria while secretary of state, insisted on saying her piece. Clinton expressed support for Trump’s recent action, but emphasized that it must be “followed by a broader strategy to end Syria’s civil war.”
She then decried Trump’s calls to ban Syrian refugees, which seemed to win back the crowd. “We cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies, and in the next breath speak of closing America’s doors,” she declared to general applause.
After getting Syria out of the way, Clinton turned to the ostensible purpose of the luncheon, which was honoring Amber Anderson Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer and major Democratic donor. After complimenting Mostyn’s stylish green pantsuit, Clinton praised the Houstonian as a woman who “wants to chart a better course in Texas.”
Speaking from a single teleprompter, Clinton recalled first coming to Texas in 1972 to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern with then-boyfriend Bill Clinton, who helped run McGovern’s Texas campaign. While Bill stayed in Austin, Hillary was dispatched to the Rio Grande Valley to help register voters.
“I barely knew a word of Spanish, but it was an incredible experience,” Clinton remembered. “I sat at hundreds of tables talking with families, eating food, and drinking a lot of very strong coffee.” While in Texas, by her account, she also went dancing at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, swam in Lake Travis (“probably illegally”), ate a lot of enchiladas verdes, drank “my share of Shiner,” and crossed the Mexican border at least once. “In those days it wasn’t that hard,” she noted.
Having established her Texas bona fides, Clinton went on to praise the state’s Democratic party. She commended state Representative Jessica Farrar’s bill that would fine men for masturbation and set a waiting period for buying Vigara. “The bill may be satirical, but the message sure resonated with women everywhere,” Clinton said.
She also pointed to signs of hope for the party in this deep-red state. Texas saw the biggest Democratic shift in the country, she pointed out, from a crushing sixteen-point defeat in 2012 to a nine-point defeat in 2016. And Clinton won an increasingly blue Harris County by a larger margin than any Democrat since LBJ.
Of course, Democrats haven’t won a statewide election in over two decades, and a nine-point defeat is still a trouncing. But Clinton made a compelling closing argument that drew on the party’s past to make a case for its future, highlighting icons like LBJ, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and, closer to home, former Houston mayor Annise Parker.
“Think of all the great progressive causes and candidates who came out of Texas,” Clinton told the crowd. “If we stay true to their vision, I believe in my heart that this state will be as blue as the big Texas sky.”
As for herself, Clinton was cagey about her plans other than that she would continue criticizing the Trump administration when it attacks women’s reproductive rights. “I have this mantra now, which I constantly tell myself,” she said. “Resist, insist, persist, enlist. As long as we all do those things, we’ll be fine.”