Why Hillary Clinton Lost the Electoral College
Last week I opined on the reasons Donald Trump won the Electoral College (and with that the Presidency). Here are some thoughts about why Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but failed to secure the Electoral College and thus the Presidency.
This essay will cover three topics: self-inflicted wounds that damaged the campaign; unfair accusations and actions that hurt the campaign as well; and the fact that in the end someone like Hillary Clinton was exactly the wrong candidate for this time in American history. This final point is something that Michael Moore warned about over the summer, but which many people (including myself) were too much in denial to see.
Some provisos before going forward: I do not think Clinton “lost,” since she earned more votes than Trump. So I will not say that she did. And as with all writing about Hillary Clinton, I suspect some readers will think I am being too easy on her and others will find this too harsh. Since there is no possible way to be perceived as neutral on this topic, I will call it as I see it. This post will also be very unsatisfying to the armies of Hillary obsessives who track her every move with a mixture of rage and nerdiness. It is illustrative, not comprehensive.
I. Self-inflicted wounds: Hillary Clinton is — and has always been — too secretive and too insular. She trusts very few people and is far from a natural politician. She is a wonk, a deeply analytical person who comes off as cold (the extent to which sexism is to blame this is unknowable, but surely that is part of her challenge. More on this later.)
All of this means that she is vulnerable to charges of corruption. Clinton always circles the wagons when confronted with damaging allegations, rather than coming clean immediately. Some will say there is no way she can come clean, because her hands are the bloodiest and most foul in all of human history.
To many people she is literally the devil, guilty of untold abominations and atrocities each and every new day. To me she is someone who was never charged in the Benghazi and email server controversies, despite being the target of politically motivated investigations that sought this very result.
So I do not see corruption. I see arrogance, tone deafness, and hubris on a gargantuan scale. And it is certainly true that Hillary Clinton — a middle class child who really did begin her public service by attending to the needs of the most vulnerable among us — has long since joined the ranks of the financial elite. She stays at absurdly priced vacation homes in the Hamptons. She speaks to investment bankers for preposterous sums. This is the kind of person who ends up saying things like “basket of deplorables” at a swanky New York fundraiser, which was her deepest self-inflicted wound of all.
II. Unfair Accusations and Actions: The “deplorables” comment was the remark of a flawed person, not an evil one. I chose the picture up above to remind us all that we are discussing a flesh and blood human being rather than an evil witch from a fairy tale.
Her flawed humanity is important to emphasize because throughout Hillary’s career she has been the target of many unfair accusations. Way back in the 1990s (before social media) Hillary and Bill supposedly ordered the murder of their friend Vince Foster. Just this very year (thanks to social media) I know some people believe that Hillary has participated in depraved sex parties that end up enslaving teenagers to cocaine. (I wish I was making this up, but I saw it on Facebook). On Facebook I also learned that Clinton “detests Christians,” which is odd given that she selected a Jesuit missionary who quotes Scripture as her running mate.
So much of what is said about Clinton is complete and utter bullshit. Not all of it but most. Eventually blinders went up, and she (and supporters such as myself) fatally underestimated the power of the corruption charges against her. Whether any particular allegations bear further scrutiny or not, the totality was of a woman who could not be trusted.
Yes — “woman.” Some people will chafe: disagreeing with Hillary Clinton does not automatically make someone a sexist. That is true. On the other hand, female leaders around the world do face challenges that men do not. Sometimes subliminally, sometimes right out in the open, people (men and women) resist the notion of a female leader. This is part of what Hillary was up against.
That covers unfair accusations. As to unfair actions, Exhibit A is FBI Director James Comey’s late October decision to re-invoke the closed email server investigation. This, of course, was the email investigation that found Clinton “extremely careless” but not criminally liable for setting up a private email server.
Comey wrote a vague letter claiming that emails discovered in the Anthony Weiner sexting investigation “appear to be pertinent” to the Clinton case. Comey did have an obligation to keep Congress informed about developments in the case, because he had allowed himself to be bullied by a bloodthirsty GOP. But he actually had nothing to say in his October 28 letter. Nobody had reviewed the emails by that point.
Nine days later he admitted as much, noting in another letter that nothing important about Clinton had emerged in the meantime. This timing was extremely advantageous to Donald Trump. As Clinton notes herself, the decision to clear her (the second time) came just 2 days before the election. This allowed Trump to claim she had bought justice (with people claiming with no proof that Comey’s life had been threatened) right before millions of people voted.
Meanwhile, several states had taken deliberate steps to make it harder for African-Americans to vote. Early voting timelines were curtailed, early polling places were reduced, voter ID requirements became tougher. All of this was in response to a manufactured crisis of voting fraud, supposedly carried out by black people (remember Trump’s calls for rural white Pennsylvanians to go to black neighborhoods in Philadelphia and monitor the polls). In the end fewer African-Americans (a solid Democratic constituency) voted this year than in 2008 and 2012. While there is no way to know how much the new laws depressed the vote, we do know they were crafted deliberately to do so.
III. Not the right year: Although James Comey’s decisions and voter suppression efforts certainly hurt Clinton, Democrats should resist the effort to blame this entirely on external factors. Hillary could and should have gone to Wisconsin and Michigan much more than she did, and listened closely when she got there. She should have done this — if for no other reason — because the Electoral College matters. The Rust Belt was clearly the key to this election.
Perhaps it would not have mattered. This was a populist election such as America has not seen for decades, and Hillary Clinton was an establishment candidate through and through. Maybe the explanation is as simple as that. And despite her many flaws as a candidate she did earn more votes than Donald Trump did. That margin will only grow as all votes are counted. This is very cold comfort now, but should serve as inspiration to the Democrats in the long run.