The 2016 Presidential Election Pie Chart

The 2016 Presidential Election Pie Chart

It is now six weeks and counting in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election, and analytical wars are still raging over how Hillary Clinton, who seemed to have such insurmountable odds in her favor, could have lost to Donald Trump. Many Democrats and independents, myself included, had rooted for Trump to become the Republican candidate, believing that he was the one candidate that Hillary’s challenged candidacy might be able to defeat.

While transformational political events like the recent election are the result of myriad interlocking trends and developments, journalists and pundits often simplify the result down to one or two defining factors that made the difference in the outcome. Sporting events provide a useful analogy: did the winning baseball team prevail (1) because of the home run in the bottom of the 9th inning or (2) because of an earlier four-run inning that allowed the winning team to tie the game? Or was there a more overarching context, far outweighing individual events along the way, such as the winning team’s superior pitching throughout the game or alternatively, on the losing side, an overall lack of energy and a deficit of good coaching? While it is tempting for most of us to identify a favorite singular factor, the answer to the multiple choice question is usually “most of the above.”

Developing a comprehensible analysis of the proportional contribution of the many ingredients that led to this transformational event in American history, in a reasonably concise manner, is not an easy undertaking. “Pie charts” are a popular means of distributing and analyzing data in statistical realms, but can also be applied (qualitatively rather than statistically) as a means of postulating and visualizing the relative contributions of various factors such as those that led to Clinton’s defeat and Trump’s victory. The following pie chart describes my belief that over half of the Trump victory/Clinton loss may be ascribed to shortcomings on the Clinton (and Democratic) side of the equation: in other words, the election was to a greater degree lost by Hillary Clinton than won by Donald Trump. That the “Populist Appeal of the Trump Message” is not over half of the pie chart is not to say that Trump did not truly earn his victory, but rather that shortcomings in the Clinton campaign were a greater factor than the acknowledged appeal of the Trump candidacy. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, had Hillary instead faced Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio and their quite different political narratives (versus Trump’s), she also would have lost, perhaps by an even larger electoral margin, and we would now have a president-elect Cruz or Rubio. It is also highly likely that a more gifted Democratic candidate than Hillary Clinton would have won the election.


Hillary Clinton, despite her many admirable qualities, was a highly challenged candidate even back two to four years ago when she was already viewed as the inevitable Democratic Party candidate and most likely winner of the presidential election itself. Her position as the lone major Democratic candidate, the resulting sense of inevitability of the choice, and a demeanor of entitlement several years before the election provided to Republicans a long and useful runway of time to vilify Clinton, representing a significant starting point for her eventual failure. Her errors in setting up her private email server and recalcitrance in acknowledging this problem, the poor judgment behind her onslaught of lucrative corporate-speaking engagements, and questionable pay-to-play conflicts in the administration of the otherwise admirable Clinton Foundation all set her up for years of derision and investigations by the Republican Party. Surely, given her widely known decade-long ambition for the Presidency, much of this could and should have been avoided.

Despite the above, Clinton was vastly better equipped than Donald Trump in terms of knowledge, experience, and temperament — a trifecta as it would be called in the betting business — to be President of the United States. And there is no “equivalency” to be measured between Clinton’s admitted occasional shortcomings of judgment and her expediency in changing policy views (e.g., the Trans-Pacific partnership, Keystone Pipeline) versus the questionable business and tax practices, racial and ethnic dog-whistles, narcissistic behavior, and serial lying exhibited by Donald Trump and his campaign throughout the Republican primaries and the presidential campaign. But these advantages were more than offset by Clinton’s lack of a message that was necessary to connect with the American electorate of 2016. Always lurking in the background was the ever-sinking view of most voters that their economic lot was worsening and that government was not listening. While some of this was fomented by Republican and Fox News misrepresentations about just how bad things are (our U. S. economy was, in fact, recovering from the Great Recession faster than that of most other industrial nations), the fact is that the American middle class, in its own eyes, was in its worst state in memory. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump each, in his own way, picked up on this malaise over a year ago, and both dramatically surprised pundits and pollsters with their ongoing success throughout the primaries. But the Clinton campaign and, indeed, the Democratic Party in general remained tone-deaf to the changing emotional mood of the electorate.

Hillary Clinton herself acknowledges that she is not an intuitive or inspiring speaker and campaigner, but her failure to project a compelling message was an even deeper and, in the end, fatal flaw. Voters in 2015 and 2016 were crying out for empathy with their declining economic status and harbored derivative fears, brilliantly spurred on by Trump, that poor government trade policy and lax immigration policies were eroding their and their families’ futures. In the face of this, Hillary relied excessively on women’s issues such as abortion rights and equal pay, as well as civil rights for African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, freedom of marriage and LGBT rights. In so doing, she was preaching to the choir and largely ignoring that vast group of self-described disenfranchised white male voters and the women who so often share their views.

The Clinton campaign strategy was clear: build on the electoral coalition of women, African-Americans, and Hispanics that succeeded so well in two prior elections for Barack Obama. However, Clinton’s charisma fell far short of Obama’s and she failed to motivate minority communities to vote in the numbers they had for Obama four years earlier, particularly in the key swing states, hence the now well-established fact that many who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. And the biggest miss was the lack of a viable economic, I-feel-your-pain message. While white middle-class voters were crying out “jobs” and “respect,” Hillary, ever bromide-driven, focused on squishy talking-points such as “stronger together” and the “future of our children,” undeniable goals for all, but vague and unapproachably lofty concepts so seemingly disingenuous to those seeking shorter-term answers to problems in their everyday lives. In this void, Donald Trump’s sharp criticisms of the establishment, misrepresentations of just how bad off America is, and outrageously simplistic promises seemed to provide the best port in a storm. For white America, Donald’s “we’re going to create the greatest jobs” completely obliterated Hillary’s occasional “go to my web-site to see all about my jobs program.” It is ironic, after Bill Clinton’s highly successful mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid,” in his campaigns of the 1990s, that Hillary’s campaign strayed so widely from economic messages.

Equally culpable, the Democratic Party at large was also guilty both of misreading the public mood and offering up very little in terms of messages appealing to self-described disenfranchised white voters. The most under-covered news story of the past several years has been the gaping void of leadership in the Democratic Party, manifested in the entrenchment of the old guard, a lingering malaise for which President Obama, given his general disinterest in his role as head of the Party, was also partly at fault. This revealed itself in an almost total — no, make that total — lack of strategy in building Democratic strength at the state and local level and a complete failure to build a “bench“ of strong future candidates to succeed Hillary in 2020 or 2024. This was equally true in the void of Democratic presidential candidates for 2016 should Hillary have been sidelined for some reason, and today remains true of the Democratic presidential picture looking forward. Ask any Democrat, “Who would be an attractive Democratic presidential candidate for 2020?” and you will be greeted with total silence and a frighteningly blank stare. In the Democratic Party at large, Hillary’s “inevitability” for the presidency over the past several years crowded out any real planning for the future and fostered an organizational laziness that provided a cocoon for business as usual. And the press must today ask itself how it allowed itself to be so obsessed in covering the peaks and valleys of Hillary’s candidacy in recent years that it did not see the Democratic Party malaise that lay beneath the surface of its obsession with the presidential election, only to become a major subject during recent weeks.

The greatest irony of all is how completely Democrats back-burnered so many of the potent economic issues on which they held significant advantage while they focused on social issues on which they were already overexposed. First and foremost among issues favoring Democrats was the virulence with which Republicans fought increases in the Minimum Wage — favored by a vast majority of voters — and contributed in a major way to stagnating workers’ real wages. Republicans then disingenuously criticized eight years of Democratic rule for a lack of wage growth, a hypocrisy that Democrats should easily have exploited. Democrats had other popular and powerful economic issues to run with, such as addressing the high costs of college for average earners, support for unions against Republican suppression, and the job-creating power of needed infrastructure investment (unless it was in the energy sector), but these all received short shrift as Hillary and the Democratic Party focused their discourse on cultural and rights issues that had far less resonance with middle American voters. Using our baseball analogy, the Clinton campaign’s poor strategy and messaging were the equivalent of poor pitching and fielding throughout the game, squandering an early lead and letting the opposing team close the gap in earlier innings, allowing the ball game to be closer than it should heading into the 9th inning.

On October 28th, 11 days before the election, James Comey, Director of the FBI, hit the 9th-inning home run that won the ball game for Donald Trump. Comey wrote, in what will be his forever-infamous letter to the heads of eight Congressional committees (all Republicans), that

“This morning I sent a letter to Congress in connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation. Yesterday, the investigative team briefed me on their recommendation with respect to seeking access to emails that have recently been found in an unrelated case. Because those emails appear to be pertinent to our investigation, I agreed that we should take appropriate steps to obtain and review them.”

The Trump campaign, of course, immediately and disingenuously declared that the Clinton email investigation had been “reopened.” It is not realistically debatable whether this letter changed the entire momentum of the race. It did. Until that moment, Hillary Clinton’s lead had grown ever stronger since Trump’s salacious videotaped statements on a “Days of our Lives” set had been released three weeks earlier. As of October 27th, the press almost unanimously was recounting the reasons Trump would now certainly lose, and Republican candidates in the down-races were distancing themselves from Trump and his campaign. But on October 28th, the press focus returned to the Clinton emails and the political winds immediately swung back in favor of Trump. Within days, there was a marked narrowing of Clinton’s lead in both the national and state polls. The effect on the Clinton campaign was compounded in a particularly sordid fashion by the revelation that the emails in question came from a laptop shared by Huma Abedin, Clinton’s close aide, and her disgraced husband, Anthony Weiner.

By the time Comey announced nine days later on November 6th, just two days before the election, that “based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July,” the damage was done, the die cast. The “new” emails turned out largely to be duplicates of those analyzed earlier and no new information of note had emerged. Lost in the turmoil of the election only two days later was the obvious fact that the same nine days requireded to evaluate the emails between October 28th and November 6th might better have been employed prior to the letter’s October 28th release. And astonishingly, there was little follow-up on Rudy Giuliani’s smirking revelation in an interview with Martha MacCallum on Fox News on the morning of October 26th — two days before the release of the first Comey letter — that a big event in Trump’s favor (in retrospect clearly the Comey letter) was about to hit. The dialog of that discussion is both creepy and telling: Giuliani, who is well known to have close contacts in the New York office of the FBI, interrupted as MacCallum was attempting to go to a commercial:

Giuliani: (referring to Trump) And then he’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean … I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprise.

MacCallum: Yeah, I heard you say that this morning. What do you mean?

Giuliani: You’ll see (laughs)

MacCallum again tried to go to commercial, but Giuliani broke in once more before letting the session end to say “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around . . . in a way that even the liberal pollsters will get to see it.” Clearly, the FBI letter or its likelihood had been in play and made available to the Trump campaign for at least several days before it was made public. These were days that the FBI might have instead used to understand the emails’ contents and prevent the letter’s being sent in the first place.

And then there is the foggy, elusive effect that the hacking of Democratic emails by Russians and their release to and through Wikileaks may have had on our 2016 Presidential Election. These were released by Wikileaks in a spaced-out, eye-dropper fashion, resulting in a steady drumbeat of news suggesting Clinton irresponsibility if not downright criminality, balancing and even diverting the press spotlight from Trump’s own trail of malfeasance. Remarkably, according to the Washington Post, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Secretary Sergei Ryabkov acknowledged that there were contacts between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign before the election, and the CIA has expressed with increasing certainty in recent weeks that the Russians were responsible for hacking the Democratic and Clinton campaign emails that flowed with such regularity from Wikileaks. The undermining effect of the Russia/Wikileaks undermining of the Clinton campaign is hard to quantify, but that there was an effect is beyond question.

It is not inconsistent or ambiguous to argue that both the message shortcomings of the Clinton campaign and the Wikileaks/Comey irregularities cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential election. Had her campaign been better executed, she almost certainly would have won, and had Wikileaks/Comey not occurred, she also almost certainly would have won. While the Comey Caper definitely swung the election to Donald Trump in the 9th inning, the largest single factor in the Clinton loss, as our pie chart suggests, was the considerable failure by Hillary and her campaign, and the Democrats in general, to speak to the key issues on voters’ minds. It now remains for the Democrats to build a new and more visionary leadership in the party, to forge a dialog that speaks to a larger portion of the American electorate, and to build a bench of recognizable, credible, and charismatic candidates capable of reversing the losses suffered in the most remarkable election cycle of 2016.