Why Did We Lose The Election?
November 15, 2016
Why did we lose the Presidential election? As Democrats, we have to do a lot of soul-searching after this historical debacle. Hillary Clinton faced some unusual obstacles, as a woman and a Clinton, but she should have won this election. Clinton had important tactical advantages over Donald J. Trump:
· The experience of four Presidential campaigns
· A well-trained, cohesive campaign staff
· A wide network of political contacts around the country
· Her party’s support: funding, surrogate speakers, organizational help
· A huge campaign chest
Trump ran an insurgent campaign, with little to no support from most Republican party leaders and a relatively small campaign staff. He also made numerous blunders during the campaign, which would have destroyed most candidates. Yet Trump won a sweeping victory in the Electoral College. Clinton won the popular vote, but that is little consolation. She lost every battleground state, including Pennsylvania, which had last voted for a Republican candidate in 1988. Clinton was thrashed in the Rust Belt.
Republicans also have to do a lot of soul-searching, too. Donald Trump has unleashed dark forces in our country, but he is building on previous steps taken by Republicans. Trump has inflicted a great defeat upon the Democratic Party, but he may also do great harm to our economy and our democratic traditions. George W. Bush severely damaged both, in his catastrophic administration, but his actions could be tame compared to Trump’s. Even a strong country like ours cannot afford to make too many mistakes. We’ve already used up a lot of chips.
“Clinton fatigue” was a huge problem, even for Democrats. The Clintons have been on the national stage for a long, long time, and Americans are tired of dynasties. Jeb Bush never caught fire in the Republican primaries, and that was a warning to Democrats. Americans were tired of the Bush-Clinton revolving door. To compound matters, Hillary Clinton was a lackluster candidate. She was not an inspiring candidate (except for women); her speeches were long, flat and often dull.
Many of us felt duty-bound to support her, because we did not have a better alternative. Bernie Sanders was a Socialist, not a Democrat. He had radical ideas, and he accomplished very little in Congress. He was a Don Quixote tilting at windmills and banks.
Hillary Clinton has a gift for self-sabotage. My guess is that Hillary Clinton began to plan her 2016 campaign shortly after she lost to Barack Obama. She knew that she would be subject to close scrutiny. So why did she:
· Use a private email address and server as Secretary as State?
· Lie about not receiving classified messages on that server?
· Give speeches for Goldman Sachs at $250,000 a pop?
· Allow her close aide Huma Abedin to work for a consulting company and the State Department simultaneously?
· Fail to hold a press conference for 270 days…or nine months, if you prefer…during the Presidential campaign?
As one close relative of mine remarked, when the FBI “wrapped up” its investigation of Clinton’s email practices, for the first time, “Why do we have to defend the (expletive deleted) Clintons again”? As I looked back at the columns I’ve written over the last year, four dealt with Clinton’s email issues.
Clinton’s actions indicated an arrogant, entitled attitude that many voters grasped and resented. In a topsy-turvy world, Trump was able to paint Clinton as “untrustworthy”, “criminal” and a “liar”, despite his own abysmal business record and tawdry personal life. Well, at least Clinton disclosed her tax returns and paid taxes.
Clinton and Democrats focused too much on minorities and they seemed to treat white, working class voters with contempt or indifference. There was too much talk in Democratic circles, and some mainstream publications, about the emerging power of minorities (and the implied decline of white voters) as though that were somehow a good thing, “progress”, rather than… a change. Some Democrats had a triumphalist tone: history is on our side, these demographic changes will doom the Republican dodos to minority status. That was not music to the ears of angry, scared white men who feel that their group is in economic and social decline.
It was clear, early on, that Trump was successfully appealing to many of those white, working class male voters. As we have now learned, white middle class voters — yes, even those with college degrees, even women — also voted for him in droves.
Yet Clinton concentrated on women, Hispanics, blacks, and other groups, rather than “mainstream” Americans, and that was a blunder. Not only was that a mistake tactically, but it was wrong. Why should the Democratic Party write off such a huge part of the American public, rather than listening to them?
Ironically, Clinton made several proposals that would have helped white working class and lower middle class Americans, but she did not push those as hard as she should have. Her campaign’s bias showed itself in several ways.
As I watched the video “introducing” Clinton at the Democratic convention, I saw many close-ups of women and Americans of every hue. But I finally asked myself, “Wait, where are the white guys?” I am a moderate Democrat, but a white guy, too, and I resented their absence from the video.
The Democratic Convention was a star-studded event and a great show. But it did not feature many speakers who might appeal to disenchanted white voters, except for Joe Biden and, perhaps, Tim Kaine.
Clinton’s most memorable sound bite of the campaign was “a basket of deplorables”. That remark was similar in its impact to Mitt Romney’s disparaging remark about the “49% of Americans” who don’t pay taxes.
Relying on the Obamas May Have Backfired
In hindsight, Clinton may have made another mistake in relying so much on Michelle and Barack Obama to speak on the campaign trail for her. Like most Democrats, I think that the Obamas are extraordinary people, and he has been an exemplary President, especially after the abject failure of George Bush. But many white voters felt, rightly or wrongly, that he had ignored their plight, as their towns lost jobs….
The Dark Side of the Republican Party
And racism WAS a major factor in the election. Donald Trump played the race card heavily in this election, and I believe it played an important role in his victory. Trump took the various “dog whistles” or code names that Republicans had used for decades to talk about race, and he shouted them through a megaphone.
Trump launched his campaign with assaults on Mexicans and Middle Easterners (Muslims) and later expanded that to blacks. Trump was taking a page from the playbook used by many Republican politicians, including George W.H. Bush — remember the ads about Willie Horton, the black rapist? Remember the birther controversy about Obama, started by one Donald J. Trump?
I recognize that many Trump supporters may not be racist and some others may not be overtly racist…but why did they tolerate a candidate who used hate speech? “Build the wall” means “keep out Hispanics”. “Watch out for voter fraud in certain neighborhoods” means “blacks will cheat and steal the election”. There was a reason why many decent Republican leaders did not support Trump.
So using the Obamas as surrogate speakers may have further alienated some white voters and helped Trump.
The Tom Bradley Effect Threw Off the Polls
I was saddened and depressed by the election results, but I was not surprised. My hope was that Clinton would eke out a victory, but my expectation was that Trump would win. As the election approached, and the polls swung wildly back and forth, I thought that Clinton’s margins in key states were thin. I worried about the “Tom Bradley effect”.
In 1982, Tom Bradley, a long-time black mayor of Los Angeles, ran against George Deukmejian, a white politician. According to the polls, Bradley had the lead…but he lost. Voters would not admit to a pollster that they would vote for the white candidate based on his race, because they did not want to seem bigoted.
I think that we have seen the same phenomenon at work in this election, as many voters said that they were “undecided”, so that they would not be tagged as politically incorrect. So please take those ardent statements “I voted for Trump but I’m not a racist,” with a large bag of salt.
The Glass Ceiling Is Very Thick
The glass ceiling is very, very thick, and sexism helped to carry the day. Many American men, and women, aren’t yet prepared to accept a woman as our leader. I suspect that this is particularly true for white working class and lower class men whose incomes have plummeted 20% or more over that last 30 years. They have lost ground to women, economically, and many cannot afford to marry. They’re angry and they resent successful women. This hurt Clinton badly.
This sexist bias revealed itself in the double standard applied to Hillary Clinton. Voters chose an unqualified man over a woman with vast experience. They blamed Clinton for standing loyally by her husband, despite his dalliances, while ignoring Trump’s extramarital affairs, three marriages and disgusting comments about women. They carried signs at rallies saying “hang the bitch!” or making vulgar anatomical references.
Would they have done that if Trump ran against a man?
In this sense, America is “exceptional”. The macho types in Argentina, Brazil and Chile elected women as Presidents years ago. Angela Merkel has been running Germany for 10 years. The Brits recently chose their second female Prime Minister; the other leading candidate was also a woman.
Voter Suppression May Have Helped Trump
In some states, such as Wisconsin and North Carolina, suppression of black and other minority voters may have helped Trump win. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in a shameful decision, gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under the Act, the Justice Department had the authority to supervise voting in several states which Congress had found discriminated against voters. The law had applied to nine states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
The states had to submit their voting procedures and draft legislation to the Justice Department, which also sent monitors to observe elections. The Supreme Court decided, on its own, that the states no longer used racist measures against minorities. Certain southern states, not Congress, had sought the ruling.
Since that decision, 14 states controlled by Republicans have enacted laws requiring voter identification documents such as photo I.D.s. The alleged purpose is to avoid fraud caused by people using false identities to vote several times. Yet studies have shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the US.
Federal courts have ruled that in three cases that a particular’s statute violated voters’ rights. One court ruled that the provisions of the North Carolina law “deliberately target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls. Despite the court rulings, many states continue to impose burdensome requirements.
On November 7, the North Carolina Republican Party sent out a press release chortling about the reduction in black voters’ turnout.
Excerpt from the press release:
“North Carolina Obama Coalition Crumbling
African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012.
Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.
As a share of Early Voters, African Americans are down 6.0%, (2012: 28.9%, 2016: 22.9%) and Caucasians are up 4.2%, (2012: 65.8%, 2016: 70.0%).”
Nice work, guys. Mission accomplished.
In Milwaukee, a black college student dutifully went to the registration office with her student I.D., driver’s license, and copy of her birth certificate, from Illinois. The clerk told her that she had to bring an original birth certificate. The point of that exercise was obviously not to avoid voter fraud.
Oh, by the way, turnout in Milwaukee was down 42,000 in this election in “areas where lack of IDs was most common”, according to election officials. Black neighborhoods, perhaps? Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes.
Donald Trump will appoint the next Supreme Court Justice, and the Republicans will control Congress, so the 14 states will have a lot of latitude. That’s bad for the Democratic Party, and it is terrible for our democracy.
Welcome back, Jim Crow.